Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seven Swans A-Swimming

On the seventh day of the Christmas season, which is also New Year's Eve, we went to the vigil Mass at sundown. (Not only is tomorrow Sunday, but also the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.)

Thus I had the opportunity to reflect on the past year, the successes, the failures, the itchies that plagued my skin, the absence of bad colds, the times that made me feel good about myself, the aimless days that made me think I was a waste.

2011 was not the worst year I've ever experienced, by far. But there are things that I could improve upon as regards my own well-being, mentally and physically.

I'm not making a resolution, per se, but rather making an attempt to live a better life. Once again, I want to try to draw or paint something every day. I want to write a little every day, be it on the novels that need to be finished, or short stories, or blog entries (or poetry -- who can resist crappy poetry?) I want to sing something every day, even if it's just an Alleluia from Mass music. I want to exercise five times a week, be it riding my horse, taking a walk, or limping my way through a workout video that has sat unused on the bookcase for five years.

I'd like to do what Bernie has been doing, taking some time each day to read something in a spiritual vein, just a few paragraphs, enough to make thoughts occur that aren't just what I have to do, or what I'm going to eat at the next meal, but things about what is most important and real in life, the relationship with the Most High.

Noting that my voice, as I'm aging, is getting a bit rough and creaky, I'd like to read a paragraph aloud every day. My Pennsylvania accent is overtaking my spoken word, and I don't like that at all.

Finally, because I now have no health insurance and the only thing "wrong" with me is that I'm too fat for my little frame, I want to try to lose about another ten pounds, which means cutting back on carbohydrates -- oh, dear, that means my delicious Almaden Mountain Chablis.

There you go. Seven things, seven beautiful swans on the river of life, bemoaning that most of the time they'll be swimming upstream, hoping that they won't be taken by currents and flung off a precipitous waterfall.

How lovely they look at a distance, but when I approach them closely, will they hiss and bite?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Six Geese A-Laying

On the sixth day of Christmas, my family pulled an OccupyKitchen until such time as I would make the time-honored dish called, simply enough, Ham Meat Pie.

I grew up not thinking about the name of the dish much. It had ham, which is meat, and it was in a pie. We didn't get it much, because Mom always insisted on cooking her own ham ... and she more or less hated cooking, much less slicing up a hot and sticky ham.

Once I was married, I just bought ham by the thick slice (usually paying too much for it) and we had Ham Meat Pie as a special treat.

My mother also always cooked her ingredients for stew and meat pie separately. She explained that she didn't want potatoes to take on the color or flavor of anything else. She was my teacher in the kitchen, and if I had argued with her about it, I would have been OUT of her kitchen, so I just took her word as law.

I don't do that any more. I cut up my potatoes, cut up my ham (equal heaps of each) and throw them in the pot together to simmer, just covered with water. (I've also found it far more affordable, and convenient, to wait until fully-cooked spiral cut hams are on sale at the holidays, buy them, and freeze them. )

Use a slotted spoon to take the ham and potatoes from the pot when they are done (reserving the juice); they join forces in a pie shell (see that monster casserole dish? That makes about 12 servings) made from Bisquick baking mix and milk. In point of fact, I use the store brand baking mix, but people know what Bisquick is. (Bisquick in bowl, add milk until you've got a workable dough. Roll out on floured rolling board. Easy.)

Make a couple vent cuts in the upper crust, bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the crust is lovely golden brown. Serve with the reserved juice and fresh chopped yellow onions sprinkled on it. Anyone in my family will eat your share if you don't like it.

The red dish of crackers are also Bisquick, the leftover dough rolled out thin, sprayed with olive oil and seasoned with a bit of onion and garlic powders, folded over, cut, and baked on a cookie sheet while the Ham Meat Pie is baking.

Where are the geese, or the eggs?  Oh, I have nothing of goosiness in the house. Instead, I have a syllabic stand in:

Six Peeled Potatoes!

Go ahead, sing it. It works.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Five Golden Rings

 On the Fifth Day of Christmas, I played in the kitchen, tackling a couple dishes that have been on my mind lately.

The first, a vegetable medley in a chickeny-flavored sauce, comprised of sauteed onions, baby portabella mushrooms, steamed kohlrabi, and wilted strips of chard, served over basmati rice. It was pretty tasty, although the next time I want to tone it down to a hint of chicken flavor.

The second was catfish nuggets, breaded and fried. Sounds simple, but I never did it this way before: I used crumbs I made from a stale loaf of French bread, with Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic. It was wickedly good, so much so that I need to be careful about how much I make, and how often; I'm having a hard time staying away from the last pieces.

And then there is this duo:  a beautiful gray and black doily that my friend Cheryl made for me during NaNoWriMo. We were playing on a forum thread over there, a peculiar role-playing game that involves cooking sherry, macaques, and urinal cakes, and frequently, antimacassars and doilies. Black for my ninja garb in the game, gray to match my imaginary (and always full) tankard. To go with it, I bought myself a new little wine glass, no stemware for me, please, of the perfect heft and capacity.

Though I photographed them on a white background, normally the two accompany me at my chair and shelf in the front room, from which I coach NFL football and advance my intellect with the Food Channel.

Today I also had the now-rare pleasure of chatting online with Lydia Manx, of Piker Press vampire series. Lydia has lost her internet connection at home to alligators disguised as a cable company charging too much for services. I miss our formerly frequent evening chats very much, so being able to catch up on all our newses and opinions was simply wonderful.

Veggie medley, catfish nuggets, a perfect doily, a new wine glass, and a delightful chat with a good friend.

Five Golden Things.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Four Calling Birds

There are four novels on this laptop that need finishing: Out With the Trash, a Port Laughton novel that semi-parallels Dreamer and Time Traveler (as well as the tedious soap opera Transitions); the semi-titled Aser novel Murder Mystery; a story about a dead woman trying to save her still-living lover, the inaptly named After Life (there are so many books out there with that title it isn't even funny any more); and the current work-in-progress, Loon and Donkey.

I don't count the 100k+ train wreck Going Hungry, because what editing needs to take place in that one should only be done with the back side of a shovel.

Anyway, all four of these books are clamoring for attention. If I have a goal for this coming year, it will be to finish as many of them as I can.

Happy Christmas Season! Today our local grocery store marked down its seasonal display of doggie beds, big poofy, huggable doggy beds, 40" x 50" -- from $39.99 to $10, just as we were going through the checkout line. I've been admiring them since before Thanksgiving, finding the loft of the polyester fill to be seductively luxurious. $10?? I went back through the checkout line with a poofy giant pillow in my arms.

Howie will be most grateful, you think. You are wrong. Howie is an ingrate when it comes to dog furniture. He loves the couch, the loveseat, the chair (if the ottoman is with it), the bed. He rarely has used his blanket on the floor.

However, I am grateful, for this big, poofy dog pillow fits very nicely into my folding quad chair in the bedroom, making it instantly upholstered, and deliciously warm.

I'm in the chair with the dog pillow; Howie is on the bed, his head on my pillow.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Three French Hens

On the third day of Christmas, I went out to see Dink, with a big, juicy apple for the little horse.

One, I needed to administer wormer to the old dude, which he loathes, but tolerates remarkably well, in a most gentlemanly manner, neither rearing nor biting, even though I'm prepared for both. When I give him the squirty paste worm medicine (all horses need this treatment on a regular basis), I always let the lead rope untied, so that if he wants to throw his head up, he can, without feeling trapped. (My son-in-law, years ago, demonstrated an easy and quick way to do this dosing, which, oddly enough, the so-called professional horsewoman through whom I bought my first horse did not know, she being of a mind that it took two people to dose a horse.) Dink was not thrilled to smell the wormer, but after a bit of lip-clamping, he relented and let me squirt the gunk onto the back of his tongue.

Two, the old gent needed some exercise under the saddle. He's such a good horse, and even though it's been almost a month since I rode, he was as steady and calm as if he was ridden every day. The day was cold, the bit of the bridle was icy cold, yet he still put his head down to take the bit in his mouth. I could tell he didn't like the chill, because he drew his lips back, and picked up the bit in his teeth for a moment before taking it into his mouth, but he did it anyway, because he wanted to go out for a jaunt. I've known horses that threw their heads around in refusal to take a bit, horses who had to be tricked with an apple or honey to reach for a bit, horses who had to have special rigs so that the rest of the bridle was attached and the bit attached at the last in order to get it in the horse's mouth. Not Dink. He knows that if we're to go out, a bit is part of the rig.

Our ride was short, just around one orchard block. It was good; we saw a jackrabbit scooting off through the orchards, and Dink showed no hesitation about us setting off by ourselves without any other horsey companions. Not all horses will do that, and so I appreciate Dink all the more.

Three, I needed the exercise on the saddle. It's too easy to become a couch potato, or a woman who exercises only by walking. But the fact is, I love being on a horse, the feel of the movement beneath my Wintec saddle, the sound of the horse's hooves, the smell of the horse's hide. Every movement has a communique; every tug on the reins sends a message. With legs and hands, I let Dink know what is to be expected; with tons of personality and acknowledgement, Dink does what I ask. I can open and close most gates from his back; he responds to leg and rein and heel cues to such a degree that if I am paying attention to what's about us, I need never be scratched by branches above us, or worry about him accidentally smushing me against something. I can, if my hat is blown off by the wind, use my crop to pick it up from the ground without getting out of the saddle.

Good horse.

Also, he's got the cutest red ears on the ranch.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Two Turtledoves

On the second day of Christmas, we had ice on the swimming pool again, after the weather reports said we'd be above freezing the last few nights. The birds had to wait until nearly noon for the birdbath to thaw out.

Also on the second day of Christmas, we went to the movies again, this time to see War Horse. We were just at the movies on Friday to see The Adventures of Tintin, I know, and we can't afford to go to the movies twice a week every week -- but I don't think anything cool is coming out this Friday. Both movies were good, but if you have only one movie fare to spend, see Tintin. War Horse review coming out next Monday in the Piker Press.

In writing news, I've caught up with myself in terms of continuity with my current novel (working title Loon and Donkey), and am now moving on with the story. My main characters, however, are very passionate about one another, and it's an ongoing battle with them not to just leap into a sex scene. I have settled on a final scene, more or less, or at least a final sequence. I'm looking forward to getting to the end and splurging on printing the creature out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Partidge in a Pear Tree

Merry Christmas!

Here is Howie with his newest toy, having just thrashed and bashed it and thrown it high into the Christmas tree. Today the dogs played tug o' war with Sebastian's new toy, mooched pieces of giblets in the kitchen, and napped after the excitement.

That is, indeed, a wash mitt, purchased in an automotive department. Howie has always loved biting them, shaking them viciously, tearing them to shreds. After he, as a puppy, mangled the one we used for washing the car, we've just bought them for him for Christmas each year.

This year, I put two squeakers (from previous dog toys that Howie and Sebastian destroyed within the first five minutes of receiving them) into a denim sandwich, and put the sewn denim sandwich into the mitt with a double handful of denim cloth scraps, and stitched it closed.

Best toy ever!

Sebastian even envied Howie so much that he stole the mitt for a while, tucking it close to his chest and lying down with his neck covering the toy.

And now for my yearly yip about the Christmas Season.

Contrary to the stores' advertising schedule, tomorrow is NOT Valentine's Day.

The Christmas season is not over when the sun goes down on Christmas Day. Today is the START of the Christmas season, which lasts until Epiphany on January 6th.

Though we have no pear tree, nor partridges in this area, we did have a hermit thrush, bluebirds, finches, two kinds of sparrows, and our scrub jays all in the lemon tree, waiting for their turn in the birdbath.

God bless us, every one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Yep, that would be me.

I hate having pictures taken of me, have for years, since I quit smoking and got fat and unhealthy back when that jacket was new. But this one says a lot about me, if you know what to look for.

The 20-year-old jacket, for example. I think Alex was about 14 when I got it, on sale at the now-defunct Mervyn's chain of clothing. Alex got one in beige, I got a green one. Thick and oversized, it has five pockets: four on the outside, and a nifty deep pocket on the left inside. No cold foggy weather can touch me in this jacket, and though Alex wore hers to shreds, mine shows wear only on the cuffs. The jacket tells that I prefer utility to looks, and comfort to style. Also that I like pockets. Deep pockets.

That's why I don't wear women's jeans, either. Those baggy beasties are from Target, with nice deep pockets and lots of room where leg meets torso, which an old woman needs when she clambers up on her old horse. Again, utility and comfort.

The deerskin gloves I got at the hardware store, principally for riding, but the original pair is still in use, stained with horse sweat and slobber. This is the backup pair I finally took the tags off to wear on days when the sissy polyester gloves just won't keep out the cold. Men's deerskin gloves. The women's gloves, again, were stitched to make fingers look slender, not to make holding reins, or a dog leash easier. There was a time when I bought only Sullivan gloves, but those sweet babies cost nearly $45 once you pay for shipping, and the hardware deerskin in my portrait only cost $12. Utility and reality.

The sneakers? Well, they actually suck, and I'm still in the market for replacements. They're Payless sneaks, inexpensive ... and menswear again, as the women's athletic shoes just aren't wide enough for my pudding-like feet. It's funny, I can get summer flip-flops wide enough in ladies' wear, but athletic shoes? Forget it. Of course, the spread-out feet are probably a result of refusing to wear anything but flip-flops if the temps are above 60 degrees.

The shaggy gray hair: well, it keeps my head warm without a hat on all but the coldest days, and I don't intend to spend money on having it cut until swimming weather comes around again. My hair won't style, so there's no point in throwing dollars at having some stylist pretend that mop is something it isn't.

So I'm cheap and utilitarian, with a heavy dose of comfort-loving.

And I also get so lost in looking for birds in the trees I don't notice my husband sneaking in a picture of me.

And I love him so much, I'll forgive him for it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Abutilon at Sunrise
Ah, sunrise. How sweetly the sun gives the flower its first kiss of the day...

Guess again. If the sun is kissy at all, it's around three in the afternoon. Until then, the world is gray and white, thickly shrouded in fog, almost colorless.

Tomorrow is the first day of winter, they say, but I've had enough of winter weather already. The heavy fog traps the particulate matter in the air, and so the Valley, from top to bottom, is under a government "No Burn Day" restriction. That means, to keep warm, we have to run the forced-air furnace.

That means: we don't keep warm. The woodstove would heat the mass of the house; the floor and walls would be warm. The furnace heats only the air, and thus everything we touch is cold.

We need the jet stream to swing south and bring us some nice Gulf of Alaska winds with a spin-in of southern moisture, blow some of this junk out of the Valley, drench the air and get the sooty smog to drop out of the sky.

Also, our turnips need a rain.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Morning of the Day after I Did It

This was the sight from my pillow when I opened my eyes on November 26.

The dried brown leaves of my neighbor's sycamore were just catching the first rays of sunlight on a day filled with promise. A promise of eating leftover turkey sandwiches for breakfast, of cooking meatballs later in the day, of unhurried folding of clothes in the laundry room ... a promise that I did not have to write one more word on my novel until I felt like writing again, as I had made the requisite fifty thousand words the night before.

This was, to my surprise, one of the easiest NaNoWriMo challenges I've ever done. Through the first weeks of the month, I did not write at all on Sundays -- there were football games that I, as a lazy couch referee, simply had to watch. And usually I didn't write on Monday or Thursday evenings, for the same reason. But when I did write, wow, the words just flew.

How did the story end? In the middle of a sentence, I believe, at a point in which I had paused to check word count, and was surprised to find that I was well over the 50k mark. Well, no, that won't be The End ... and I'm not sure how it will end. My original thought was to kill off one of the main characters, and let tragedy reign. But that's a very simplistic ending; I'm thinking now that the story is more about ramifications of an event, rather than closure.

I've kept on writing a few paragraphs when I get a sense of where the action has to go; I've added a chapter and a half to the interior of the story to slow down the overly-rushed feeling it had.

Yeah. I think this time around, I want to go less for tragedy, and more for redemption.


Yep, that's a fit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oh, Neglected Dog!

There's my boy Howie.

Or I should say, my little old man Howie, as he's all too quickly approaching 77 dog years of age.

He hates NaNoWriMo, having endured ten of them. He sees me with a laptop and doesn't even bother to come and pester me. During football games, he'll pester. He brings his tennis ball and expects me to play Football Ball -- that's when he puts the tennis ball on the foot stool and waits for me to flick it off, over and over again. But when I'm writing, he knows the tennis ball is a lost cause.

My poor boy, so ignored that he is resigned to riding in the car with his Daddy, to the store, to the gas station, or just around the block if the cars need to be moved.

Yes, he hates when I'm writing, but he's all ears like this when I put on my sunglasses and visor and walking sandals.

'Mope' morphs to 'hope;' 'bored' rockets to 'ready to run!'

A brisk walk makes him feel like he's three again, and clears out my dirty dull story cement blocks that inhibit high speed word flow.

Good dog, good walk, good writing to all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Writing Habit 2011

I don't know that it's fair to say that I've developed a healthy writing habit so far this NaNoWriMo. 

Yes, I'm writing every day, earlier in the day than was my wont in years past. That's what I hoped to accomplish.

However, it's gone a bit farther than that. I find I'm not really content with just making word count, I want to keep on writing long after I should get my ass out of the studio and take care of laundry, and my actual word count is slackening as I try to find the "proper" words to convey my meaning. I even missed the opening kickoff of the Thursday night NFL game, even though I'd been looking forward to watching it since Sunday.

My studio has become again a place of magic and wonder for me. I'm doing my writing from a folding quad chair (one of those mesh deals that you might take to the beach) and have my little denim footstool to rest my laptop on when I get up to pace or get snacks. Daily writing has sparked a flame of creativity, and I find my eyes resting on unfinished canvases that call to me for completion. It's dang cold out here in the mornings, but I find that if I wear a heavy sweatshirt (the NaNoWriMo one I bought last November, as a matter of fact) and run a space heater, I'm comfortable enough.

Comfortable enough that I don't really want to be any place else in the house.

Unless football is on. I'm not what you'd call an all-out Raiders fan by any means, but it is a fact that I took great satisfaction in watching them kick Chargers ass last night. 

Probably helped my writing habit today.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Love on the NovelFront

I've been crazy in love with writing fiction since 2001.

This past whole year, indeed, since mid-November 2010, I had insisted I would never try to write a 50,000 word novel in November again. I've done it successfully eight times in ten years, and was not about to subject myself to such torture again.

Oh, well, the best laid plans ...

I dragged out a flawed start to a novel from years ago, one that I've intended to write, but was afraid to explore. Nearly 12k into it now, I'm so in love with the story I can hardly stand it.

The characters are unfolding, becoming more and more real. The drama and the revelations are about to blow up. The damage and the rebirth are in the wings.

I know that I can write 2000 words a day, easily. Maybe it's dreck, but I can churn 'em out. This year my love of writing has been renewed by a return to a subject I've neglected. Oh, hell, says NaNoWriMo, just write it, and then if you don't like it, rewrite it later. In November, just go have a 30-day date with your story.

That's what I'm doing, and wow, I can't wait to pick up the date again tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Dia de los Muertos 2011

Ahh, beets.

Alex grew these beets in the planter box on the sunny side of the front yard. They're all prepped and ready for oven-frying.

We peel them and slice them a little less than half an inch thick, then toss the slices with extra virgin olive oil, then once again with garlic powder. Spread out on a cookie sheet, they're lightly sprinkled with sea salt. After 30 - 35 minutes in a 425 degree oven, they're ready to devour.

When Alex decided that she had to plant beets last spring, I didn't dissuade her. Thought she was nuts, but hey, whatever. The front garden boxes were her canvas for experimentation, not mine. When she told me that beet greens make a good salad, I scoffed -- until I pulled off a beet leaf and tasted it. Where had beets as salad greens been all my life? Good thing she planted them thickly: eating the greens in our salads was the perfect way to thin the crop.

I hadn't done much beeting around since we moved to California. They tend to be expensive here, and I'm not often impressed with the quality. Now that Alex has proven herself to be a worthy beet farmer, though, I'm looking forward to greater beetery.

What do beets have to do with Dia de los Muertos, a day for remembering your dead relatives and friends?

When I was in my twenties, I would often mooch jars of pickled beets from my mother. She was picky about her beets, which she bought in quantity. "Lutz is the variety to look for," she lectured me. "Lutz are nice and tender, hold their color, and taste the best of all." And then she would proceed to make the most delectable pickled beets in the entire world. Sweet, flavorful, crisp -- there was never any argument about eating enough beets. We truly could not get enough.

She learned the process of pickling beets from Dad's aunt, who was called "Sis." Mom pretty much learned all her cooking skills from Sis; she told me she pestered Sis to teach her how to cook because Sis was slowly dying, and Mom on her own had almost enough culinary skills to boil eggs. In my turn, I learned from Mom how to make lima bean pot pie, meat pie, pumpkin pie (did we never eat anything but pie?) and macaroni salad, and of course, lots of other things.

But the one thing I didn't learn how to make was pickled beets.

I don't know why I didn't; maybe she didn't have a recipe per se, or maybe Dad refused to eat some. Or maybe some part of me just assumed that Mom would always be there to make them for me. I don't recall her making them in the last 30 years of her life.

Seeing Alex's harvest of gorgeous beets made Bernie and I remember how good Mom's were, made me remember my mother in a time when Alzheimer's hadn't made her an ill-mannered stranger.

Miss that Mom so much.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Values of America

I've been watching the news and the votes and the hype and the campaigns ... not a lot, but enough to be disgusted.

Well-loved neighbors moved, putting their house up for sale, because they fell for the scam (and it is a scam, make no mistake) of re-financing their house at the top of the market, just before the crash. They are well-meaning people, but someone lied to them about what the market would do (and Bernie and I are not super-heroes with prophetic powers; we knew the bubble would burst, because it was artificially blown up, and thus so must have our neighbor's lenders) and they succumbed to a false vision of Free Money For All!


Every business you see is out for one thing: profit. Every worker you meet is out for one thing: money.

I'm sure there are exceptions. Even among my dearest friends, I can't think of one, though. Get me the money. My boss is crankin' for that bottom line. Yeah, we bought a boat, a time-share, an RV, a rental property, got a gym subscription. But shit damn hell, we may be spending money that we don't have, but it's the bastards that tell us we can do that -- those are the enemy.

Yeah, we can all jump on the bandwagon, or cheer on the OccupyWallStreet movement that rails against that sort of greed. Bleed people dry? Why, you dirty, immoral bastards.

And anyone who is anyone jumps into the children's park sliding board that says: No Sexual Abstinence Allowed. Seriously. You tell your kid to keep his or her pants on, and you are condemned up, down, and sideways. How dare you instruct your children about sexual mores if they are Christian or Islamic or Jewish?? You restrictive, abusive, unenlightened destroyers of pleasure! You should go to jail for having religious beliefs, damn you!

In America, everyone, regardless of age (at least from the youngest age up) should have the right to fuck anyone, regardless of gender (hell, you all know that if it blows up, it will be the older fucker that will get blamed), regardless of their parents' wishes. OMG, let the kiddies fuck -- we've given them contraceptives that imply we know they will, and by all that is "true," we'll make abortions available when the contraceptives fail, as they often do.

Wait, shhhh, we won't show them what an abortion looks like, because it's gruesome beyond words. Tell the kiddies it's okay to fuck, but don't ever show them what it looks like when it all goes wrong. No, no, no, don't show them dead puppies or kitties or torn-up aborted babies. Fuck like an adult, pull your hat down over your eyes like a toddler at a scary movie and don't look at what the consequences of your fucking do to human flesh.

"I love you more than I love life." How many lovers have heard those words? "I love you more than anything."

Do you love him more than you love your orgasm? If no, then, duuhhh, you don't love him more than anything. Do you love him enough to say that you don't care what society thinks, or what your parents thought, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death parts you -- even if you don't have the orgasm dimension? Or does Orgasmic Entitlement supercede all that? Are you vowing that as long as you have Orgasm, you agree to all those "marriage" agreements, as long as you both shall live, or at least as long as you both have the capacity for Orgasm?

Wow, there's the two moral constants for America now: Wealth and Orgasm.

That sounds harsh. But just think about it.

I want to be free from debt, with plenty of cash left over. I want to be free to fuck whoever I want, however I want, whenever I want, without physical, economical, or social consequences.

Instead of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, we now have the Land of the Grabbers and the Home of the Freedom-Fuckers.

So much for October.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


 In the square of sunlight, appearing white on the floor, is a tennis ball.

A tennis ball is of sublime importance to this dog, Sebastian; half border collie/ half God alone knows what, Sebastian is intent on that tennis ball being kicked, and how he will catch it before it gets past him. There is nothing in his universe apart from this activity. Food? Forget it. Need to relieve himself? Back seat. Invading Visigoths bursting through that front door? Are they going to snatch the ball? Might deal with them then, but otherwise, tell them to get out of the way!

Here comes November, and NaNoWriMo.

On November 1st, a writer opens a document, and sees nothing. The goal is to see 50,000 words appear in that document by November 30th. The key to meeting the challenge is to keep the author's eye on the story. Not so much to keep to an outline, but to keep an eye on the characters, what they wear, what they eat, why they live in Baltimore as opposed to San Diego ... and let them do what they will do. It's great to enter NaNoWriMo with a beginning and an ending, but it's not necessary.

If you think about the people you know, they all have stories behind their lives. You don't know all of those stories intimately. But you could, if you wanted to, speculate upon the facts of their existence, and extrapolate.

Lots of NaNovelists get bogged down by time constraints, and that's totally understandable, as Life is busy for many, many people.  The breakdown that saddens me is fear of their own words. Starting to write, the author finds his/her words aren't "good enough" or are "too far outside the box" or perhaps simply not what the author expected to find within him/herself.

NaNoWriMo is just about focusing on word count, and the telling of any story.

Like Sebastian, all of us who sign up for NaNoWriMo have to stay focused, and like Sebastian, it's not the ball, not the words that come out, but something more integral:
in both pictures, Sebastian is not focused on the ball, even though catching the ball is his goal. He's watching that foot, that power that drives the ball.

Writers for NaNoWriMo: Don't watch the words, don't judge the words, they can always be edited. Watch instead the source of the words, and believe that source has lots of power behind it. In your mind, in your heart, there's a story that might want to be told. Give it at least an airing this coming month, and worry about giving it perspective and depth and a makeover ... later.

Here comes the kick!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Simple Things

We went to the Egg Place to buy eggs today.

Commercial producers of eggs for local markets, Den Dulk also has its own retail outlet a couple miles down the road. We buy our eggs there not only because they are inexpensive, but mostly because they are so fresh and taste sooooooooooo good.

Today, we found that the young hens are still producing a myriad of Medium Brown Organic eggs.

Hot dog, we say, that means we get five dozen eggs for $3 -- beats paying $3.69 or more at the store for Organic Brown Eggs.

When I picked up the flats of eggs, I had a look at them, and said to the cashier, "Wow, these are absolutely beautiful!"

She giggled nervously, and said in an offhand kind of way, "Yeah, uh ... simple pleasures, right?"

Obviously, she didn't think I was serious.

But I was. Look at these eggs. They are works of art. Technically they are all "Medium Brown Eggs" but what a difference in each of them! One such a dark brown; one so light with a dark cloud sketched upon it. Speckles, freckles, on the others, darker, lighter, in a cap-like pattern ...

I really meant it. They are beautiful.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Where Did I Store That Darn Coat?

Nothing says "Get ready for winter" like sundown at 6pm, with a sudden need for a heavy sweater by 6:30.

I suppose that I'm ready for the season to change; we've got the winter's supply of wood stacked, I brought out the flannel shirts and sweatshirts, and I've got about two-thirds of my winter garden in. (Snow peas and lettuce/spinach mix.)

Still, it seems a bit sad to give orders for the last of the barely-coloring tomatoes to be picked, a few nice green tomatoes to be saved for frying, and the rest to be put into the compost bin. In another week, the perfectly stupid time change will occur, and darkness will fall at suppertime. The weather service's long range forecast suggests it will be raining by then, too.

That will be welcome -- the air quality from the dust of the almond harvest is atrocious. And looking on the bright side of this autumn evening, we're not getting 6 - 10 inches of snow tomorrow like my sister-in-law is back in Pennsylvania.

Maybe I'll call her tomorrow and ask her how she likes it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Dog and I

And here is my little old man, soaking up some Vitamin D, basking in his favorite spot.

He's recovered from his "separation sickness," now that we're home and the first thing he can do in the mornings is come to my side of the bed at and give me kisses and cuddles. He's also mostly recovered from his frolic in the river on Sunday, when he overdid it trying to out-swim and out-race young Sebastian; he stiffened up so he could hardly walk by Sunday nightfall, and was pretty gimpy all day Monday, too.

Today Bernie and John had places to go and things to do, so it was just me and the dogs for a few hours. Sebastian curled up on his Daddy's pillows and kept warm on this chilly autumn day, and I don't count the cat because he sleeps all day in Lillian's bed. Howie, however, followed me from room to room, bouncing his tennis ball off my toes, playing "Make the Bed Ball" (he tosses the ball into the bedding to make me get it) and "Laundry Ball" (he bounces the ball to me as I'm folding clothes so I kick it back to him); while I did my ironing in the garage studio, with the garage door open, he lay patiently on his rug, watching cars and people go by, following me in and out as I put shirts away and got the next batch to iron. While I cooked spaghetti sauce, he puttered around the kitchen, hoping for a sample, but not really mooching -- I think he's figured out that if there's a garlic smell, he's not getting any taste treats. (Fish or chicken or beef being cut up brings both dogs running to watch the cutting board!) Lately he's begun to try to get me to play Kitchen Ball, but I really don't encourage that one. All I need is to have a tennis ball go flying and land in the butter dish.

Tonight, too, we're on our own, as the rest of the household went to a concert. Howie is on the couch, leaning on the pillows, keeping an eye on the front walk through the windows. Now and then he and I look at one another, just making sure we know where the other is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lovely Marglobe on My Table

There is not a single flaw on this tomato.

No bug stung it, no ant chewed at it, no slug slimed and tore at its tender skin.

It ripened perfectly and evenly, with no sunburnt top or dry cracking from irregular watering.

This is a thing of beauty.

However: it is past mid-October, and this is THE. ONE. AND. ONLY. PERFECT. TOMATO  this season!!!!

Not fair, not fair at all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home, and Howie

We drove to San Diego this week, as I said in my previous post.

Meeting Lydia Manx and her folks was wonderful. Even if I didn't enjoy Lydia's work in the Piker Press, I'd read it because she is a delightfully alive person, full of humor and sparkle.

Lydia's parents, Phil and Maureen, were so much fun that I wish they would adopt me (me being an orphan now and all). Both of them had me roaring with laughter at their stories and hoping to see them again some day.

Getting to San Diego was a lot more easy than I thought it would be. I was ready to pack sandwiches for the trip, for crying out loud. As it was, we stopped for a little breakfast at the foot of the southern mountains, and in less time than it took to get hungry again, we were there.

We spent Wednesday puttering about Balboa Park, looking at mummies and flowers, and wearing jackets because the marine layer was making everything gray and dim and damp. We toyed with the idea of taking an extra day and wending our way home via Rt. 1 along the edge of the Pacific Coast, but opted to wait for a time when there wasn't quite so much fog.

And well that we did. Howie was so distraught that we left him behind that he worried himself quite sick. I didn't mean for John and Alex to have to care for a hysterically ill dog; future vacations will have to take into account that this little beast has given all the rest of his days to us, No Returns Allowed. My poor boy. We had to run to the store today, and even that separation affected him deeply. When we make our jaunt on Hwy 1, some time in the future, it's going to have to be a dog-friendly trip.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ready for the Road Again

Clothes are packed, the maps obtained. Hotel is booked, the laundry nearly done.

The dog knows something is up and is getting a head start on moping.

Tomorrow morning, before it's light outside, we will be setting off for Southern California, to Del Mar, to finally meet up in person with Lydia Manx.

We've known her for years; she's been with the Piker Press since 2004 as our vampire serial fiction writer. Years of staff meeting chat rooms, days of keeping each other company via instant messaging, sharing turmoils in our families' lives ... we've talked on the phone, I know her voice.

It seems odd that we've never looked at each other eye to eye.

Tomorrow, that will change.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eggplant Gets Ready for Its Date

Alex left one of her skinny eggplants lying on the counter in the kitchen. And Bernie left his sunglasses nearby. I thought the eggplant ought to have one last chance to look cool before it fulfilled its purpose.

Not to be outdone, on his next pass through the kitchen, Bernie raided the leftover spaghetti and gave the eggplant a more humanistic visage.

Glad someone else is going to eat this eggplant. I can't stand chopping up someone I've spent so much time with.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Suddenly Inundated

That's three stews' worth of peeled and diced tomatoes, ready to go into the freezer.

Freak weather all this year, not the least freakish of which is weather that is spurring the tomatoes to ripen at an alarming rate in mid-October.

I decided to put this batch up after viewing how many tomatoes are coming ripe on my Marglobe and Bernie's Romas. Oog. I also negotiated with a neighbor to foist off on her the excess we're going to be picking in the next few days.

These are all Romas, firm-fleshed and medium-flavored. I'm thinking about stews with beef, thin slivers of celery, these tomatoes, fresh parsley, some potatoes, and green beans. With a skootch of Louisiana Hot Sauce. And French bread, just baked from the local bakery.

If that doesn't make you wish for December, nothing will, unless you're a kid with a Barbie Jones.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

Last year, by the 20th of November, I was swearing profoundly that I would never do NaNoWriMo again, ever. Nothing would persuade me to put myself through it one more time, neither hot blacksmith tongs nor bribes.

The first time I did it, in 2001, it was high adventure -- write fiction? Me? A whole novel's worth? Preposterous! But wait -- I have an idea! What if I run with it? No one ever has to see it but me! Yahooooooo!

Thanks to Alex and her Piker Press, I kept writing afterwards, regularly, and when NaNo 2002 rolled around, I was ready with the confidence, a premise, filler, and an ending. (It wasn't the right ending, but it was an ending.) I completed the requisite 50,000 words by the 21st of November, feeling like I had been beaten by sticks at the river side and wrung out to dry at the whimsy of the sun.

Again, I kept writing almost every day, for the Press, and when NaNo 2003 rolled around, I was ready for the sprint with a faint outline, and it was easy -- and tons of fun -- to complete my novel.

I spent many mornings the next summer (and yes, I was still writing regularly) chatting with Wendy Robards about character development for NaNo 2004, which made the book a breeze to write.

Then 2005 appeared on the calendar, and I didn't have an idea, and my writing habit had become sporadic. FAIL. 2006 and 2007 I just wrote junk for NaNoWriMo, stuff that needs so much editing to pull out even a couple short stories that it's hardly worth revisiting. 2008, I had a great idea, and by the time I reached 30,000 words, I knew that it was a story that could be really good. 2008 -- BAIL. Not going to ruin this story by rushing it. (Note: this novel is still in progress, still not done, still my favorite of all the stuff I've written so far.)

2009 and 2010 I had a story, but my writing habit had become so non-existent that I hated sitting down in the evenings trying to churn out 2000 words a day.

Why am I even considering NaNoWriMo again this year?

Can it be that I know I need to discover a new writing habit, a new time to turn my mind to creation? With Bernie being out of work -- retired, can we shout Hoorah -- I don't want to spend every evening writing. What if I did it in the morning? Would that work?

Should I give that time a try? Should I give this NaNo 2011 a try?

Great Feeling!

Very short post, very cool update.

I lost a pants size after having to buy "fat pants" over a year ago.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn Evenings

Autumn evenings 
the temperature drops 
from warm to put-on-your-jacket 
perfect for watching the sky
for sitting outside 
around a little fire
as the fire in the sky dims

Roast some marshmallows
over the firepit
remember the day 
whose light has faded
and will never come again
and the sparks fly into the black
becoming invisible

The daylight hours are gone
never to be touched again
memory only imperfectly
preserves it
and like the colored clouds
the taste of sweet char and sight of glowing embers
slips away into the night

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Confession, and The River

One Spring, before temperatures had warmed enough to be snake-worthy, I set off on a quest: to find the Juniata River.

I would have been 10 years old, I think. Surely I wasn't so bold as to try such a stunt at 9, and I know I'd accomplished the feat by the time I was  12. That puts me at 10 or 11.

There was a creek that ran through my parents' property, paralleling the Cedar Spring Road. There were many access points to the creek, but I began my journey at the bottom of Mr. Neff's land, where the creek was narrow enough to jump over if one was lucky, or athletic. (Sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn't.)

Following the little stream along the bank was fine while I traipsed along the edges of peoples' yards, but then the creek widened out, the underbrush got nasty, and I had to wade in the shallow edges, often holding myself steady by the saplings that grew on the immediate bank.

It got interesting as I drew closer to the downtown bridge over the creek; the banks were steep and had functioned for many decades as a kind of landfill. Stepping carefully on bits of cement blocks and bricks, avoiding pipes that stunk of sewage seeping into the creek, (seriously, this was 45 years ago in a rural area -- they were still getting rid of shit by dumping it into the waterways), I edged my way along, now hearing the traffic on the road above and ahead of me.

The creek widened again, over large pebbles, as it went under the bridge, and I was able to wade along the edge, barely able to acknowledge the stonework over my head. I was too far to turn back, but terrified that I would be discovered.

What I was doing had been expressly forbidden by my parents. There was a limited area that I was allowed to roam, and most of the distance I had traversed was not included. And I was never, ever, ever to go to the river on my own. Not only was I just a skinny little girl, but I also could not swim. It was a crazy stunt, sure to get me a beating, sure to get my access to the creek revoked for years.

And yet I felt I had to do it. There was a biological imperative that I could not resist; I was drawn not by disobedience but by the need to see the undiscovered land and the culmination of my speculation. The creek had to end up in the river, but where? What did it look like, and where did it go? My creek, and The River. The intersection would help define my place in the world.

Continued steep banks followed the creek after the bridge, but there was a tiny ledge along the creek, with winter-browned grass overhanging the water. And then trees, and then, the river, murky and dark under the cloudy skies. The creek spread out even more, flattening as it entered the river.

The River. The "blue" Juniata River. I had reached my goal. After nodding in satisfaction, I began to retrace my steps, doubly cautious not to fall into the creek or wade too deep for my rubber boots. More time had passed than I could account for if I had wet sneakers, and I knew I had barely enough time to get back before Mom came looking for me. I went straight home after reaching my starting point, and never told my parents that I succeeded in my crazy stunt until I was in my 40s.

And I never offered to guide friends down the creek to repeat the feat. Through the adventure, I understood that it was dangerous, with unacceptable risks, that my parents had been right to forbid it. Digusted by the sewage being dumped into the creek didn't thrill me, either; as a teen not so many years later, I was delighted to hear that the local government had mandated connection to the city sewer line for all residences.

I would have planted a flag if I had one, and if it wasn't so important to keep the event secret.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Many houses on this street have only a small tree in their front yards (the original landscaping included ornamental pear trees) and so the strong sunlight of the afternoons makes the people who live in them close their blinds and curtains, cutting themselves off from the outdoors.

We planted a dwarf bush blue gum in place of the ornamental pear, and instead of hot sun, we get dappled shadows on the interior walls, and our windows are all uncovered.

Each evening, unless there are clouds, a new work of art is displayed, and when the wind blows, the shadows dance gracefully.

I like it here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sleepy Boy

After an unusual prolonged downpour this morning, we took the dogs for a walk.

All went well, until ...

The field we were walking beside just got irrigated a couple days ago, and with the additional water from the sky, well, it was a vast stewpot of mud, which we hadn't realized until Howie leaped into it and sunk six inches deep. He got a rapturous expression on his face and began bounding across the muck.

Sebastian joined him, and the two of them went nuts, plunging into still deeper mud, racing shoulder to shoulder.

And of course, Howie the Boss knew just which part of the field still held standing water, so he waded right in.

Sebastian at least had the decency not to lie down in the soupy mud and wallow himself in like a pig.

Doggie baths later, Howie is more than willing to sleep off what had to be tremendous effort galloping through that stuff. And you know, not two minutes before the mud games began, I said to Bernie, "Poor Howie is finally starting to slow down a little."

Guess not.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Tasted So Good!

Breakfast of taters and eggs.

We buy our eggs from a poultry farm out the road, usually five dozen at a time, not only because they are less expensive than in the stores, but also because they are so fresh and delicious.

They've just switched over to a batch of young hens, and the young ladies are not producing "large" eggs. They're producing lots of "mediums" just yet, but the demand is for "Large." Large gets shipped to the stores first, and then what is left is being snapped up by local customers before noon.

Now the big fat old hens are still laying plenty of eggs ... but they're the wrong size, too. They're laying "jumbo" and "super-jumbo." In fact, they're laying so many Super Jumbos that the poultry farm was selling the Super Jumbos at half-price.

Super Jumbos are too big to go through the scrubbing and candling machine, so they're a bit dirty, and they're not guaranteed to be perfectly pretty inside. Still, getting two flats of Super Jumbos meant I got three dozen eggs for $2.50, and I don't mind washing them. Indeed, it's kind of fun to do the candling, holding the clean egg next to a bright flashlight to view the yolk within.

These eggs are HUGE. And every single one of them is a double-yolker. That's ... six dozen eggs for that price, how's that for a bargain?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Unbelievable, that our tomato harvest starts at the end of September and early October.

Freakish chilly weather in May halted tomato plant development, then a tragically hot week cooked most of the tender unripe fruit on the stems. My primary producers, Better Girl and Shady Lady, went into shock and produced little to nothing this summer.

However, I did have a seedling or two sprout from some old Marglobe seeds. That would be the tomato on the left, keeping company with a Roma on the right.

Marglobe -- it's a name from my distant past, when I might have been four or five years old, and Mom was just starting her greenhouse business. I remember her talking about starting Big Boy tomatoes instead of Marglobes, even though most people in the neighborhood preferred the Marglobes. She ever after only grew Big Boy tomatoes, or Burpee varieties with the "Big Boy taste."

But knowing my mother's penchant for being contrary to what everyone else in the world considered the norm, I wondered about the choice. Did she really find Big Boy tomatoes to be superior to Marglobes, or did she veer from Marglobes just to be following her own solitary journey? I bought a packet of Marglobe seed and this year had a couple of late seedlings survive ... and finally produce a ripe fruit this week.

With great ceremony, I tasted the first vine-ripened Marglobe.

The skin was tender, the flesh delicate, the flavor ... very delicate. As in ... am I eating a tomato at all?

Just to reassure myself that I wasn't imagining things, I had a wild tomato, fresh off the volunteer vines, small thing that it was. The flavor about blasted me off the porch.

Mom was right.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tomatoes, Wild, Tame, and Old

Today was a tomato harvest day.

The ones in the big clear glass dish are cultivated tomatoes. The ones in the smaller containers are all wild, that is, their parent plants sprouted from seeds germinating from last year's wild plants, "volunteers," if you prefer the term.

The cultivated tomatoes are the first decent ones we've had this summer; the oblong ones are Roma, the round one is Marglobe. An apple babysits them, hoping to get them to ripen to full redness.

I have never seen a shittier year for tomatoes than this one. The late coldness into the first week of June was followed by a hot snap that literally cooked the tops of tomatoes on the vine, and damaged the vines themselves, burning them yellow. My Shady Lady and Better Girl plants were stunted by the horrid heat, and their sun-baked fruit rotted on their stems.

We planted two Roma plants late, and I had a couple Marglobe plants come up from old seeds I had in the garage. These all set fruit, but it's a race against time for them to ripen. In the clear glass dish, on the right, is a Marglobe tomato, the only one to turn color so far.

Wild tomatoes have supplied our table, and I have to admit, they are truly tasty. 2011 has been Hunter-Gatherer Tomato Year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Legacy of Lima Bean Pot Pie

Last week, Bernie asked me if I would make Lima Bean Pot Pie. I agreed to do so, recognizing the great power that I have, and wishing to use that power in a kindly manner.

You see, I could hold the pot pie hostage, demanding some sort of ransom, as in "Certainly I will make pot pie for you, Darling, but first you have to take me on a cruise to Hawaii" or even "You'll get the pot pie when I see the fall garden beds tilled."

Or cruelty, I could  use cruelty -- "You think all you have to do is ask for pot pie, and you'll get it? Go on, go find some other woman who knows how to make it!"

But no, I do not. If I hadn't ever wanted to be asked to make pot pie, I never would have introduced the dish to him in the first place. Because most people who have this thick, creamy, delicious, hammy and noodly confection once fall madly in love with it. Lima bean pot pie is right up there with fried chicken and macaroni and cheese in the Comfort Zone of food.

Sadly, by the time my generation is gone, pot pie may be extinct as well.

Even by the time I was in grade school, none of my classmates knew what "lima bean pot pie" was. They had already been afflicted by little green baby limas, the scourge of childhood. The big, soft mature bean -- butter beans -- were unknown to them. None of my friends' mothers made this dish; the closest anyone got to it was the chicken pot pie made with bow-tie noodles (store-bought) and sacrilegious chunks of carrot and potato. Horrid.

My mother was my heroine: she could make pot pie.

Now she wasn't above holding it hostage: she might ransom the food for chores to be done in return. And if she was in a bad mood, forget about it -- refusal to make pot pie was a mighty weapon.

My only recourse was to learn how to make it myself, and she was gracious enough to coach me, so long as she didn't have to do the work. Fair enough.

I thought about my father's grandmother today while I was rolling out the noodles, the woman who would have taught his Aunt Viola Quay how to cook. (Not his mother, she was too flighty to stay in the kitchen.) I also have Dad's grandmother's ironing board, and a wooden bowl and chopper that must have been hers. I think I have a few pictures of her, one as a young girl, and a couple as an older woman, but I know little about her. Still, working in the kitchen to make this simple bit of heaven, I think she and I would have had more in common than her grandson's mother or her grandson's wife. They found cooking a chore. Great-grandmother, at least, would have been fascinated by my Cuisinart, which makes the dough in 45 seconds, my tempered glass rolling board that cleans up like a dream, and my ceramic-top stove. And I think she might have sputtered with disgusted jealousy at the pre-cooked, spiral-sliced ham I dragged out of the freezer, but one thing I know for certain:

She would have loved this batch of pot pie.

Friday, September 23, 2011


In those days
at the equinox of the Late Summer Year
the heat rose again as in July
and the people did once again
dip in their swimming pools in luxury
and lament the waning hours of daylight

Two months of summerlike weather
did the people lose that year
two months of gardens growing
two months of sending children outdoors
their tans were lousy
unless they went to a tanning salon

Summer dresses and sandals
tank tops and shorts
the people wore them even though
the sun and the earth declared autumn
"No, Summer will not end!" they cried
"Extend it the two lost months!"

"This cannot be done," said the Lord.
"The sun and the earth have their own agenda
as they must
for the sake of the rest of the world
yet I will help your acceptance blossom
and feed the nimble-tongued toad as well

Thus the Lord
allowed the flies of September to flourish
in their hundreds, in their thousands
flies which knew that Summer ended
and which coveted the houses
and the dinners of mankind

Like a second job
the people took up fly swatting
massing mounds of carcasses
in their kitchens and their porches
in their bathrooms and their dens
and turning their many minds

And so the people stopped their whining
heaved sighs of relief at early sunset
they looked to the skies for tell-tale hints of rain
and began to hunger for the chilly nights
the wearing of sweaters
and the demise of all the filthy, bloated, obnoxious and frantic flies.

The flower in the picture is cyclamen, which is winter color around here. It's begun blooming early, for reasons I don't know. We got two decent tomatoes from cultivated plants, finally, and while I welcome our current hot spell, I have indeed begun to wish for real autumn weather to slow down all these damned flies. They hang on the doors and sail in any time someone comes through; they ride on people's backs like they were on a bus and enter the kitchen to wallow on counter and dishcloth and mashed potatoes.

Ripening tomatoes, or the demise of flies? Well ...

Friday, September 09, 2011

Works in Progress

The last few days I've been fiddling with three canvases, all very small, all very simplistic.

The first one is in the center, three hills and three towers. The second is the trees against the sky on the left. The third is the farmstead and fields.

None of them are done. They need finesse-ing -- and I don't mean detailing, I mean addition of highlights and dark contrasts, a little fine-tuning. But the good news is, I was actually out in the studio for hours, painting!

After seeing my post-it note on my desk with the ideas and the inspiration for the works, Bernie began nagging me to start work on them. It worked: I went out to the studio to avoid his prodding, set up for the project, and got after it.

This is my worry-stone, a piece of seashell. Was it from Cape Hatteras, where I long to be every day? Or was it something I found on the beach at Santa Cruz, wandering along and thinking of my Port Laughton novels? I don't remember. It's just been on my desk or in my jewelry box forever.

One day, I thumbed it, and was struck by the suggestion of towers on a hilltop, against a russet sky. And then I turned it, and and saw a forest, with odd constellations in a sky. One more turn (imagine 90 degrees to the left) and visualized a barn, and farmhouse, with fields.


It's art, if not "good" art, and I let my imagination run with a limited palette of oils: Naples Yellow, Burnt Sienna, and Cadmium Orange.

The undercoat of the three little canvases was a leftover from a semi-fictional painting of Mission Buenaventura, an undercoating that was so richly orange that I fell in love with it. I had just enough for three 10 x 8 canvases ... just enough. That was two? Three years ago?

No matter, I feel that I'm off and running with these three little abstracts. I want to add touches of Titanium White and evilly dark Alizarin Crimson to each painting to complete them. The tree-picture will have constellations in its sky to correspond (approximately) to the dots on the shell ... but everything has to dry a bit before I go on. Wet on wet oil is fun only up to a certain point.

I'm thrilled to be painting again, and bemused to find that the paintings I enjoy the most are abstracts.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Art Will Cost You, You Poor Bastards: I

A bit of an eye-opener today.

The family went to the Haggin Museum in Stockton to see a Salvador Dali display of his illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy, and a display of native plants that native Americans ate -- in this area. Now, I admire Dali for his bravado and willingness to follow his own drum-beat, but I was most interested in edible plants in Central Valley California, as I live here, and God alone knows when the other shoe is going to fall and people are going to have to figure out ways to eat that are not dependent on SafeWay.

We started with the Dali display, and I pulled out my trusty camera with its low-light settings, and took about four pictures of the most interesting paintings ... and then a docent (museum employee) came up to me and said, "You're not allowed to take pictures in this exhibit."

Well, I knew that flash pics were prohibited throughout the museum, but no one had told me that any photos were not to be taken. But I was fine with that, I guess, and we deleted my pics from my camera while the docent looked on, and was satisfied. "You can buy a book of these paintings," she told me. "And if you want to take pictures of the other displays in the museum, you can sign a release form."

Now, the last time I was in the Haggin Museum, I took pics of the art, and so did numerous other patrons, many of whom used the forbidden flash in spite of the big sign at the entrance that said, "NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY." So this was a surprise to me. But hey, it was an important exhibition of an important work, so whatever ...

The display of native foods ... salmon, acorns, some flower bulbs, elderberries -- those were off-limits for photographs also, as you could buy a book about them downstairs. There were tablets of native food recipes for free hanging on the walls between photos of native Americans plying their cooking skills, but no photos of acorns or baskets or mussel shells were allowed.

"It's because someone might see your pictures and profit from downloading them," a docent told me, after suggesting I sign a release form that would permit me to take pictures of other things in the Haggin. "They might download them, and then sell those images for a profit. So you can't upload your pictures to any online site where other people might see them, not even just your friends."


Salvador Dali's works should never be seen unless someone pays airfare to come to Stockton in the next month, or to New Mexico, where the paintings are based, or they can cough up $299 to buy the book?

What does that say about art? Hey, Shithead, unless you can come up with airfare or big bucks, you can't see these drawings/paintings. That's ridiculous. Here, have a look at what you can already find online, you don't have to rely on some poor-ass tourist's photos:

I have more to say about free art, but that would make this post way too long.

More on this tomorrow.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


This was my view today as I floated on my raft in the pool today.

The sun was quite hot, the temps around 97; the water of the pool has already taken on that September chill that bit by bit cuts back on our swimming. My only agenda for today was to get as much floating/tanning time as possible.

The sky was utterly cloudless.

After about an hour and a half, the hamburgers and hotdogs were off the grill, and I came inside to eat. This may have been my last pool float of the year.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


It's been nearly 25 years since we last grew onions from onion sets.

At the top of my yard back East, I had a little garden for onions and zucchini. When summer was about done, and the tops of the onions began to wither, I'd dig them all out, dry them on a sweater rack, and then braid them into long strips. They would subsequently hang from hooks in my cellar stairway, looking lovely, nicely convenient to my kitchen.

Never having done onion sets before, Alex was sparing with how many onions she planted, but it was a pleasure to stand in the morning coolness today, letting my hands remember how to braid their dried tops together. Maybe the richness of this sight will encourage her to plant more next year.

My friend Cathy the Mad Horsewoman let us borrow her pickup truck this past week, and thus we got the winter's supply of wood in, too.

There is a strong satisfaction in putting things in order like this. Although stacking wood is hard work for my lazy shoulders, I love seeing the pieces fit together, examining each chunk to see the planes and twists, feeling the solidity of the properly done stack; greedily I still insist on being The Stacker, though I admit I'm glad I'm not the Loader or the Hauler any more. It does go much more quickly when Bernie and John and Alex are there to take up the wheelbarrowing.

In the same way, taking a pile of tangled, dried onions and making them into a neat cluster is heartening, watching the dirty outer skin slough away to reveal shades of shining brown and gold, feeling the strength of the braid holding together like magic.

Although a woodstack or an onion braid aren't great art, they are still creations of the hands that planted and hauled and braided and stacked. There is a part of me in this stockpile, in this onion braid -- part of Alex and John and Bernie, too, which makes these works so beautiful. The good will that went into the work infuses them with love, elevates them beyond just Vegetables or Wood.

I'll remember this when we taste black bean chili, or stand by the wood stove to warm up this winter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The New Book

Last year the half-wine barrel under the Japanese maple had begonias in it after the freesias were done. This year I dumped a bunch of packets of old seeds I found in the garage into it, and this one nasturtium came up, the last growth that the disintegrating barrel will sustain. At the end of the season, the barrel will become kindling, if it doesn't fall apart first.

One nasturtium -- what a laugh! The plant took over the whole planter and is sending out tendrils, hoping to conquer the planet. In spite of the shady location, this sun-loving creature is thriving, and gracing the landscape with a whole new look from begonias.

The crispness of the reddish-orange spots on the petals astounds me. How does it happen that such perfect designs appear on a lowly vine? It's a mystery, one that I never tire of seeing.

Yesterday, my friend Cathy -- Cathy the Mad Horsewoman -- officially gave up on rehabilitating her big horse Rusty. Years ago, when Cathy and I first rode together, Rusty was perfect, trusting Cathy to tell him what to do, completely in sync with his rider. They were amazing together. Then she had to go to work full-time, and gradually, when they rode out, his demeanor changed. He decided he was the one who had to be in charge.

He became so willful that when she tried to remind him of his station as mount, he threw himself around so violently that Cathy flew off the saddle and nearly had him fall on her as he flung himself to the ground. Her left wrist and arm shattered, along with her faith in her beloved horse.

The past year has been difficult; Cathy tried riding her other horse, old Peanut, but was so fearful of another incident that trail rides were fraught with tension; then old Peanut died, nearly 30 years old. Under intensive training, Rusty seemed to improve, only to revert to Mr. Nut Case again two weeks ago. It broke her heart, for she really loved that horse.

Yesterday she threw in the towel, and accepted another horse, on lease. His name is Chip, and I met him today. He's adorable, a short horse with a big body, a well-shaped head, and a friendly demeanor. (If I was in the market for another horse, I'd have bought him in a minute.) She's ridden him a couple times, and they seem to work well together.

It's a new volume for her, a whole new story on riding and horsey relationships. Her story with Rusty, her story with Peanut -- time to close the book on those years and begin a new one.

Maybe that's what life is all about in our late fifties: new stories, new books, close down the pages that went before. What's up next? Who knows where the new horse will carry us all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Toad in Luxury

Before the sun hit the pool in the morning, this little chappie was on Lillian's pink inner tube floatie, surveying his resort.

Does he eat bugs off the surface of the pool? Are the mangled snail shells we find on the patio the remains of his escargot? Where does the toad reside during the hot summer days?

We don't know, and Toad is not disclosing.

Oh, Toad, remind me that floating on the surface of a cool pool is a worthy occupation.

You Toad, inspire me to find savor in humble foods.

Oh, Toad, your saggy and spotty skin are so beautiful. When I look in the mirror and see sags and spots, help me to remember that God thinks I'm beautiful, too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We were sitting out on the back patio (this is an activity that happens fairly often) one day this past week when we heard something new: a bird call that we had not heard before.

Yes, we know our birds; sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, hummingbirds, finches, flickers, mockingbirds, and especially the jays -- but this call was very different, loud and shrill, and coming from several directions! More than one strange visitor!

We grabbed our birding binoculars and circled the pool, watching a pair of birds zooming through the sky at high speed, calling out their panicky-sounding cry. One of them plummeted into our neighbor's sycamore, and we carefully approached, hoping for a glimpse of the new bird. I snapped a shot up into the branches, hoping to be able to see in an enlarged photo what we had been hearing.

Before we put the camera away, though, we did spot the bird in the tree. It was a gray cockatiel.

We counted four locations for the source of the calls, and after a few minutes in the sycamore tree, our perched subject took off, joined the others, and was gone.

I sincerely hope that those birds found their way home. We haven't heard them since that evening, so maybe they aren't lost any more. 

Either that or they're touring the almond  and apple orchards, stuffing themselves on nuts and fruit.

If, when cooler weather hits, we spot a cockatiel the size of a turkey, we'll know he found the vineyards and the orchards for sure.