Monday, February 28, 2011

Another Season

Another year, another batch of almond blossoms.

This happens every Spring, and some would be so inured to the occasion as to say "Yadda, yadda, yadda," which would be really a rude thing to say to such magnificence.

True that all of the blossoms have five petals, and most of them have a center that is pinkish; some are whiter and some are pinker than others in the petals themselves. But that doesn't make them Oh, sniff, it's that season again.

The play of light and shadow on a sunny day -- that differs every year; the branches grow, and who knows how many buds will open on a branch, and will they face into the sun, or away?

I walk through orchards, and look at the blossoms and am just blown away by their beauty, their individual tenderness. That one petal, near the right of center and below, with the shadows playing across it -- how can I not feel joy at the exquisite feast for my eyes, for the unique masterpiece of Life it portrays? I capture it on camera, and can call it to mind even when the winter is so dim and cold and achy that it seems that light and warmth and comfort will never come again.

That's why we should look at people's faces, too, you know. They have seasons, too. Their seasons aren't so regular, of course, but sometimes, if you're watching, they bloom, and the blossoming is so beautiful that you want to take them home with you and feed them lunch, memorize the loveliness and hold it in your heart forever.

The season of blossom is worthy of remembrance, because it is also a symbol of hope.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Needs a Few Tweaks

Wait. This was supposed to be the week of the height of the almond blossom bloom. It wasn't supposed to be COLD and rainy. This week should be balmy, and fragrant with almond blossom perfume.

And didn't Alex's book on gardening say that the last frost date for this area is mid-January? And didn't I already have my tomatoes in the ground by the end of February last year?

Alex covered all the frost-tender plants last night, and we'll have to have them covered tonight, too. The storm blew furiously through the area rapidly yesterday, drops of rain dancing four inches off the sidewalk towards the end. The cold temperatures didn't materialize during the rain, so we didn't get the predicted snow, not here.

It looks like we're going to have to get another 1/4 cord of wood on Monday; most years we've used 1  1/2 cords to heat for the winter, but this year, we had to use wood early in the season as well as late, bringing us up to over 1 3/4 cords we've bought.

The cold weather that has dithered around has moderated the blossoms, too; on January 20th I saw my first open almond blossom, and fretted that the bloom was coming too early, but the chill and rainy weather has delayed things somewhat.

Somewhat? Somewhat? Who am I kidding? I hate being cold this late in the year! This is irresponsible, and I'm going to sue the jet stream for cramping my style, or throwing me off my groove, or for mental and physical cruelty! I demand highs in the 60's, or recompense in the form of free long johns!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Damned If You Do ...

I've been watching the BBC and Aljazeera a lot since the first days of the demonstrations in Egypt.

I thought Tunisia was a fluke; surely such demonstrations would not affect neighboring countries. As the crowds grew in Cairo, I was astonished, then fascinated, then amazed. I sincerely hope that the Egyptians are able to form a new government that takes into account the desires and needs of its people.

Like many, then, I wondered if people in other countries would realize how strong they could be if they simply pulled together and said, "This must change." Yeah, right. Like that could happen in Iran, or Syria, or Libya.

Now Libyans are trying for something similar, or at least they were; Muammar Gaddafi's response was to treat the demonstrations as a civil war, and shed so much blood that war is what it seems to have become.

In spite of my best wishes for the people who are trying to change their lives for the better, I have been struck by the difference in the Egyptian protesters' interviews and those in Libya. Protesters in Egypt spoke of their pride in their people for making a stand, for enduring the hardship of the protest, for being willing to make it clear that they wanted change. However, for the last three days, I've been listening to Libyans bitterly complaining about the US not storming in with a military presence to stop the government's bloody reaction.

What if we had? Why, simply this: Gaddafi would have seen an invasion of his country by foreign dogs as something that justified all-out retaliation. Out-gunned? Yes. Out-manned? Yes. Willing to refrain from using biological warfare? NO. Had we gone in, the people would have borne the horrific wrath of a madman. We would have been branded as the fools and criminals who brought Hell to the land.

And having not forged in, waving flags and automatic weapons, now we're "weak" and "heartless" and "hoping that Gaddafi wins."

I sat on the patio yesterday, watching the breeze and the sunlight in the eucalyptus, wishing that all strife could be resolved peacefully, and very, very glad that I live where I do. Truly a blessed place. But I could not help but wonder that if we, as a nation, had stayed the hell out of Iraq, that by now, Iraqis might have taken to their streets, and of themselves, changed the regime to one that suited them better.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

3/4 of February

The rain stopped some time last night.

I watched the puddle on the brick patio outside our bedroom window grow into a small lake yesterday; the north side yard was under an inch of water. The fish pond out front filled to the brim ... but the rain was such a cold one that Lil and the dogs couldn't go out and play in the gutters by the street, nor could I open the garage door and watch the rain from my studio.

The rain has thrown me off track. My heart says I should be out worshiping God in his creation of the almond blossoms at this time of year, but my aging old body and the rain tell me to stay inside where it's warm, and thank God for the steady gentle heat of the woodstove.

Tomorrow my plan is to work on the remaining bits of the Press in the morning, and then after the day warms, I want to go ride Dink and see the sunlight on the white and pink blossoms, and revel in their scent. I intend to pack my camera in the car, and when the ride is done, take some pictures of the blossoms out there. Even though I've had Dink at the Spurgeon's ranch for many years, I've never taken pictures of the blossoms of the trees in their neighboring orchards.

In fact I might try to pack my camera in one of the voluminous pockets of my cotton jacket, and see what kind of photos can be taken from the back of a good horse.

Friday, February 18, 2011


It was a dark and stormy day.

With a coat and umbrella, I walked to the mailbox to retrieve the last three days' mail, which had been jammed nearly solid by the mailman.

Let me aside that I have little sympathy for crowded mailboxes. We could reduce the carbon footprint of this country by 20% if we just stopped sending newsprint junk mail. I've talked to the P. O. about this stuff, and they say there's nothing they can do about it, which is horseshit. So if not checking my mail for three days causes a problem with the Postal Service, too damn bad.

Nevertheless, when I arrived back at the house and dumped the grocery-bag's worth of stuff that had decompressed from the little mailbox, and sorted through it, lo and behold, there was an unexpected treat: a royalty check from Lulu.

Now that can brighten up a day like this in one second flat.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Storm Before the Calm

 Amid swelling buds

a finch perches in the rain

waiting for his food

This poor lesser goldfinch looked absolutely miserable in the steady cold rain today. There was not enough food in the finch sock for more than two or three finches at a time, so they had to take turns. However, I bought a big bag of seed today, so tomorrow they can glut themselves.

At this point I suspect that the almond farmers with early-bearing trees are sweating it a bit. The bloom isn't FULL on yet, but we're not done with the rain for a few days, if the weather service is right.

On the other hand, the weather service is rarely right, so perhaps all will be fine.

And back on the first hand, the weather service was calling for snow flurries today, and though we didn't get any here on the floor of the Valley, the mountains to the west are white-topped, as we saw when the rain clouds finally lifted enough to disclose a horizon. In fact, the 10-day forecast places two days of snow showers right on top of the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival.

Hahahahahaha! Like that's gonna happen.

In the mean time, while the weather service predicts doom and gloom and ice crystals, this little creature visited our pool:

A Pacific tree frog! He is tiny, (about the size of my last thumb joint) and every time we'd try to sneak up on him to take a picture, he'd dive for the bottom of the pool. So I had to shoot from our bedroom window, and couldn't get a good close-up.

In spite of the cold and the rain, he knows it is Spring. We heard coyotes singing on Tuesday night; I'm longing to hear this little fellow joining the nightly chorus.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dogs in the River

I don't take a camera when we know dogs are going into the river.

Today is the last warm day we'll have for a while; rainy, blustery weather is on its way again, for a little while. We went and hauled another load of wood with our cars yesterday, and that will not only get us through next week's chill but should also last us until next fall. However, with the impending chilly low fronts headed toward us, I knew that today was a day for Howie to have a bath. And what is the point of bathing a dog who is only a little in need of the bath? How much better to have to bathe a dog who has been in the river mud and REALLY needs a bath!

The Stanislaus River is low right now -- the Sierra snowpack that feeds it isn't ready for a big melt yet. The result is a large sand bar exposed down by the river park. Good place for dogs to play ... and apparently, a good place for families, too. There were a couple dozen people there, with lawn chairs and sunblock and picnic foods, sitting in the warmish air (65 degrees) and letting their kids wade in the shallow shelf off the beach.

Fortunately, they were all on the eastern end of the beach, which left the western end for two dogs thrilled to be allowed in the water. Howie, upon learning that he was allowed in, waded into the water and lay down in it, something he has loved all his life. Now, I understand that behavior when it is really hot, but when the water is icy and the day is barely warm?

They chased sticks and brought them back; they stuck their heads underwater and found water-logged sticks to bring to shore. They leaped and splashed and plunged into the deeper river channel and had to swim against the current to get back to us, and then charged back into the icy water a zillion times more.

We had dog towels ready back at the car, and dog shampoo waiting for our return to the house. Sebastian willingly got in the shower with his Daddy, loving a continuation of water games, but Howie had to endure a long bath outside where there's a nozzle with a strong flow, due to his dirt-trapping undercoat. For him, we hooked up a hose to the kitchen sink so he could have a warm rinse.

No surprise that both dogs are snugged in already for the night, Sebastian in his Muvver's bed (I hope she doesn't mind damp sheets) and Howie on the love seat in the living room with a blanket over him. (I went to pet him a few minutes ago and found him shivering, my poor lamb. I'll give him some warm broth and rice with his food tonight.)

And then it's back to Winter for a week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sewing A Little

The weather has been pretty fine here. So fine that I've been opening up my studio (that is, I raise the garage door) to the air in the afternoons.

On Wednesday, I "worked" in the studio all afternoon. That is to say, I collected most of the detritus that always ends up in my studio. I think it's because I like my work spaces to be clear of "stuff" that the open floor is a magnet for bags of recyclables, toys, lumber, fans, heaters ... Anyway, I put stuff away or threw stuff out and took the recyclables to the recycling center. Bernie ran the vacuum for me out there, and voila -- an enticing place to inhabit.

Thus, yesterday I was able to haul out my sewing machine and finish five (small) sewing projects: hemming three pairs of Lil's pants and mending some rips in pajamas. In addition, I did the last machine seams on my ottoman project, shown there in blue denim. The final sewing (on the opposite side) will be by hand as soon as I get some nice blue thread.

The sewing machine I have isn't a very good one, I'm afraid. It's adequate to my needs these days, I suppose.

My mother worked in a "shirt factory" while I was in grade school. She had some bodacious sewing skills. I used to love going to Selinsgrove, an exotic hour away from our town, to visit a discount fabric store. Most of what we picked out was under three dollars a yard -- for the good stuff -- and oh, the bliss of finding fabric for a dollar a yard or less! Mom made me gorgeous skirts with matching jackets; I made myself simple dresses for school under her tutelage. She encouraged me to buy cheap fabric and make funky seventies clothes. We worked together on my prom dress -- I did the tedious hand sewing of a bazillion tiny fabric loops for the button back -- a gorgeous yellow satin, full skirted creation with a lacy-filmy over-jacket (there is a name for that sort of thing, but after nearly 40 years I've forgotten what it is) that was absolutely beautiful and unique.

In 1988 I stopped sewing pretty much completely for ten years. By then, alas, I'd forgotten much of what I'd known, and hadn't kept up with the technology. I made an upholstery cover for a window seat in 1997 and then somewhen along the line, my old sewing machine died.

I bought the current machine to do just what I did yesterday -- little stuff. For now, that's enough.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Stumbling Through the Super Bowl

Everyone knows that the Steelers lost.

How disappointing it was, and yet, I have to admit, Green Bay just plain old outplayed Pittsburgh. Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked just about flawless, and the Steelers' QB Ben "Trap 'Em in the Bathroom" Rothlisberger played like he was hung over or didn't sleep the night before.

I thought that Randle El was underutilized.


Packers' offense seemed to know how to keep Troy Polamalu  out of the picture, and I think that's what gave them the win. Probably every coach in the NFL will be studying this game to see how to neutralize Polamalu's stunning speed in the future.

We had a houseful of guests (which I always love) and none of them was cruel enough to gloat about Green Bay's victory. They all knew I'm a Steeler fan ... how could they not, when I was wearing a Steelers t-shirt?

Ah, next season ...

Maybe next season someone else will have an HDTV and we won't be the hosts. Lord, there was a lot of food left over.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Something New Emerges

This will be the very first Spring Bernie and I will have been able to spend together.

We met in September of 1974, briefly, and went on growing closer, engaged in December of that year, and married the following April. But in order to get married, he had to find employment, and we were in Pennsylvania, where spring comes in late late April if they're lucky, and May usually. So by the time Spring rolled around that year, he was working.

We've often wished we could have been little kids together, to have time to just play. We would have only gone home for meals and sleep. I would have got him in trouble, getting muddy and wet in the creek, and he would have led bike hikes as far as we could ride.

Now, things have changed. He and I are not separated by jobs, or three hours of road travel (we grew up far apart in PA).  Instead, we go to bed at approximately the same time, and get up at approximately the same time. We go to the grocery store together, to the bank, to the office supply, to the library. We'll ride bikes together soon (after the bees settle down to their pollinating job), and see first morning showings of new movies, irresponsibly having popcorn and Coke for breakfast.

Today we went down to the river again, after it had warmed up a little. I wore knee braces so that I wouldn't have to stay on the level, and we trekked off the main trail to a path that runs along the edge of the river, passing by a lovely sandy beach near a swamp where frogs will soon be singing songs of love.

No worries, no "We have to keep it short or you'll be too tired at work." No hurries, no "We have to go before eleven because you have to leave early because of the traffic."

We've been lovers for 36 years, we've been husband and wife; we've been partners and co-workers, mom and dad, Dziadzy and Gran ... and now we get our wish: to play all day long if we want, kids together at last.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


We were walking around the center of town yesterday, waiting for my car to be smogged. Our town has a tiny down town, abutted by residential streets characterized by little bitty, well-kept houses and soaring street trees.

On one corner, I was intrigued by a drift of dried leaves of a type I didn't know -- narrow, serrated, peculiarly dark. I looked up and didn't immediately recognize the tall tree, but noted that it had some kind of casing as fruit, that had split open and dropped ... small oval nuts.

I looked at them scattered around on the ground, the sidewalk, the street gutter. Bernie stepped on one of them and it cracked readily.

"Pecans!" I squeaked, and tasted the golden meat inside the shell. Delicious.

We filled the center section of my purse where my camera normally travels.

I had never seen a pecan tree before in my life. And yet here is this tree, producing tasty fruit, unpraised and uncollected, for what has to have been many years. Most likely no one remembers what kind of a tree it is; that's part of our Convenience Society. Pecans are annoying to shell, especially if they aren't the large commercially grown ones you see in stores at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And who do you know who goes around gathering nuts and fruit fallen from trees any more?

Well, now you know two: me and Bernie. I plan on visiting this tree later in the spring to see the nature of its green foliage ... and to tell it that it's still doing a good job.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

When Technology Fails

Our dishwasher died last Thursday.

It's a Bosch, a hard-working, energy-saving, water-wise machine. I've liked it, especially the aspect of it that meant it could never leak water into its own wiring and set up a risk of electrocution, as the previous dishwasher could.

Nevertheless, the part that is necessary is on back-order -- possibly a flaw in the manufacturing of this thing -- and so for the next week, we do all dishes by hand.

That's not a difficult task. We never had a dishwasher until we moved to California in '85, never had one that worked well until we moved back here in '88. Of all appliances to go wonk, the dishwasher is the least troublesome.

Now I have noticed some things:

Dishes don't pile up in the kitchen, waiting for the dishwasher to be cleared.
Dishes are sparkly clean, with no junk residue, as people clean the dishes rather than neglect to rinse them before they put them in the dishwasher.
Everybody pitches in and washes/dries the dishes.
Dishes and pots and pans are cleared and cleaned after every meal.
More glasses and silverware are available at any given moment.

Now I wonder, why do we actually have that dishwasher?

Each time I do dishes, I think of Cheryl Haimann's poem:

Keeping House

At three, dry the forks with a flour-sack towel.
At four, dust the baseboards with an old undershirt.
At five, iron Daddy's handkerchiefs
and fold them into neat rectangles.
Mama prepares her daughter for a woman's future,
keeping house
like all of the silver and sepia women in her photo albums.
She can't predict a future of
interactive teleconferencing and data storage solutions
any more than her daughter can predict
a time when plunging her hands
into a sink full of spoons and hot bubbles
would be the most peaceful part of her day.

And I find a smile creeping across my face as I put the dishes, clean and ready to dry, on a towel on the counter.