Monday, March 28, 2011

Day's End

There's nothing like being busy all day long, from sunrise to sunset.

Kind of makes you feel like a homesteader --

Okay, not a homesteader, that would be an exaggeration that the ghosts of homesteaders would haunt me for. Nevertheless, I was busy today from before the sun rose until ... well, it's well after dark and I'm not done yet.

A simple enough start: I got up, dressed, and said my morning prayers. I took care of the livestock, receiving grateful doggie kisses in return. I fed myself, sat in the morning sun with Bernie for about ten blissful minutes, and then set to the hard task of the day: calling our homeowner's insurance.

Saturday's torrential downpour for some unknown reason caused a leak in the garage ceiling in a number of places -- a freakout disaster for me because that's where my studio is. Fortunately, the leak did not touch any of my canvases or papers or pastels, and Bernie was clever enough to get a bucket under the worst leak before it soaked the rugs.

Indeed, the insurance people were very helpful. I told AAA that I had never had to call them before, and what should I do? They had a plan in seconds (wow, almost like they do this as a business) and investigators and more investigators would be here by suppertime to investigate all the wet bits and possible causes.

Then it was getting the Piker Press up and running for the week. The major obstacle was trying -- after three years of not doing it -- to get a Fever Dreams cartoon to upload properly. That, and the omnipresent laundry cycle, took until it was time for a quick lunch, then ...

The neighborhood erupted like a bunch of ants. The man across the street had some lumber for us (for kindling, or whatever) and some pavers, which we did need for a project, and then the neighbor next to him was trying to unload landscape blocks (which are damned expensive) and did we want them (hell, yes, a savings of about a hundred dollars. Haul, stack, haul, stack.

The insurance dudes arrived. Lots of explanation and chat, photos, photos, then the next round of insurance dudes, lots of paperwork, more explanation and chat, finally done, time to return to the laundry room to fold two bigass loads of clothes and stuff, shift the next two batches.

So good to see the sun go down, and find my chair and my laptop and finally relax.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Classical Tale of the Season to Come

Sunset light caught the tender reddish leaves sprouting  on the pomegranate tree, lovely against the mostly cloudy sky and the remains of the ornamental pear blossoms in the background.

This is a light only seen when the weather is unsettled; the sun is gentler, the sky softer. The leaves are a color only seen in spring, before the photosynthesis machine hits high gear, and green -- thick, tough green -- becomes the color of the day.

My son-in-law and I ran out onto the porch this afternoon to watch the heavens open up and a deluge of rain pour down, in one of the heaviest storms we've seen this year. We couldn't even go to the edge of the porch without being soaked; water was standing three inches deep on the south side of the house. I'd been out in the studio in the garage, working away at a sketch, and heard the sound of the weather change from pattering rain to a roar -- I think I have to run and see what new entertainment has been provided, and so I raced through the house to the front door so that I could see it without getting completely soaked.

It's Spring, and everything from the constellations to the atmosphere, the trees' branches to the tiny weed seeds in the soaked earth are telling us a story.

After every Winter, it's a story that I love to hear, over and over again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Finchable Day

Ha, ha, the weather report was wrong!

Instead of overcast and showers, we had blue sky and poofy white clouds, and the occasional dark bluish cloud, and a sprinkle, and even a tiny hail shower... but it was mostly sunshine, and much warmer than they said it would be.

Some American goldfinches stopped by the feeder, an additional treat for the eye. It was hard to get a good shot of them, because they are much more shy than the littler lesser goldfinches (those greedy thugs!) and they kept a close eye on where I was with the camera.

I don't want to spook them; I'd like to see them more than once or twice a year.

So the sun was very welcome, but so was the rain over the weekend -- between the sogginess and the high winds, nearly all the blossoms were blown off my neighbor's ornamental pear. This is good because the blossoms, shining white, smell like rotten meat. Every year I eye my garbage can with disgust, and then realize that although the can is no Pampered Chef vessel, it also doesn't smell THAT bad!

Sunshine, finches ... I think Spring is off to a good start.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh, Did You Really Think It Wouldn't?

We have PG&E for our electric power. That's "Pacific Gas and Electric" for those not in the acronym know.

The people across the street, in a subdivision built some five years later than ours, have Modesto Irrigation District as their power suppliers.

That's the stage. Yesterday, after viewing the weather forecast and the weather alerts, I patrolled the yards and made sure we were wind-safe (high winds being predicted) and considered making copious amounts of braised chicken in case the power went out.

We backed out of the chicken cookup; surely the power wouldn't go out again so soon, as we'd spent a dark evening just a couple days ago when the power went out during a moderate rain.

The lasagna Bernie had put in the oven had another 30 minutes to go when we lost power today.

Now, there was enough heat in the oven to bake the creation through, and we had a lovely lasagna lunch in spite of the lack of power, but still. This is 2011 and it was just a spring rainstorm, and the wind advisory had long since expired. And yes, the people across the street still had power, as they always do when we are in the dark.

PG&E ... not entirely worthless, but not to be counted on. I knew that. I should have made chicken the day before.

Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that when the power was out the other evening, we lit a couple candles and hung out in the kitchen where the wood stove kept everything nice and warm, and there being no TV or computers, Bernie and I just sat and talked over glasses of wine. Frankly, I was glad for the outage. Perhaps PG&E should schedule its screw-ups for the evening hours all the time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Even the Sky Weeps

I remember falling in love with him when his parents walked along with us at the Arts Festival, and he kept up with us by means of doing continuous cartwheels, a big smile on his little face. He might have been six.

I remember his admiring look and him saying "Wow" when I took him and his brother to the swimming pool with me, after I'd appeared in my bikini, ready to leave the house. Was he twelve already?

I remember overhearing him asking his brother if maybe their father and mother would remarry each other, and his older brother telling him gruffly, "No, they're never getting back together, so just stop it." They were nine and twelve, I think.

He learned to play a number of musical instruments well, but especially loved the French horn, and was good enough to play with a symphony orchestra, though by that time he was already a stranger to me, due to the contentious drama of the family.

Oh, well.

In time, my Christianity and especially my Catholic way of life were too much to surmount. No amount of love and good will, or good memories of childhood were enough to allow him to reach back through the steel doors of liberalism and re-touch the relationship.

For a short while, a few years ago, he sent bloglike emails to his entire mailing list, regaling his contacts with his celebration of ostentatious promiscuity and how he loved the gay community in Denver. He went through one love of his life after another, one party after another, one bar after another. I think everyone in his family just wished he would settle down and be happy. And then the emails stopped. Completely.

The rain that has poured down all day today echoes my emotions; my eyes have been burning all day, as though they were crying a little constantly -- not enough for falling tears, but enough to hurt. Sleepily I woke this morning to the cloudy skies, taking stock of what would be on the agenda for today, then feeling a great weight to the heart as I remembered the evening before.

Yesterday, I heard about it for the first time. My youngest nephew is HIV+.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Here are the ladies!

The big plants in the middle are Early Girl tomatoes, and to either side are Shady Lady variety. Both are exquisite in taste, and one of the buds on the southernmost Early Girl has already opened. The half-whiskey barrel planter in which they reside has been raised about a foot and a half, so that when they cascade, they won't lie on the ground ... much.

I'm looking forward to tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes this year. I wonder, do these plants know that they are my pets?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Fat Sparrow

This fat English sparrow has been a point of interest for us for about two weeks. He is undoubtedly the fattest sparrow we've ever seen; while he dines on the back patio, it's hard to see if he even has feet.

He's a solitary little soul, for the most part; he spends his day hopping around the garden eating grass seeds (when he's exhausted the birdseed on the patio) and sitting by himself on the fence or in the lemon tree. He's never far from the source of food.
Flying seems to be a major effort for him, though, which isn't surprising considering he's ball-shaped rather than bird shaped. My son-in-law and I watched him take off the other day from the feeding spot on the patio -- he really had to work at getting the altitude he needed to make the top of the fence.

Saturday I got up before sunrise, and in the low light saw the fat little fellow sitting amidst the seed-hulls of the previous day's feeding. He was so still that I thought he was dead. I watched him for while, and by and by he shook himself a little and hopped off to the side to check for any stray seeds that might have fallen into the cracks between the stones. 

Is he sick? Or is he just old, and nearing the end of his life? The two are not the same, not really. One is a malady, the other a normal thing. I don't see other sparrows attacking him, so I don't think he's ill, per se, but he is on his own. He doesn't squeak plaintively, calling for company, so I assume he's not in distress. 

He reminds me of me, a bit. Like him, I rather prefer not to be in flocks or crowds; I like my food and drink to be near at hand; I'm definitely slowing down. And, I have to admit, like him, I'm starting to look a bit scruffy. 

In the Gospel of Luke, it says:
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.

I have to think that God cares about us as much as I worry about this fat sparrow, hoping that he'll reach the end of his birdie days peacefully, or at least with a good purpose. (He does seem a likely candidate for helping the neighborhood hawk feed her children.)

In the mean time, we make sure there is plenty of food out there for him and the white-crowned sparrows preparing for their migration north, and try to pay attention to the little things in life, as God does.

 I was able to snap a photo of him as he conversed with another male English sparrow later. Perhaps it's a nephew, or even a son. His unkempt looks contrast with the left-most fellow's sleekness.

"Kid, fly as far and fast as you can -- while you can. And keep this place in mind for the lunch counter when you get old."

 He's right. This is definitely the place.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Horse Day

It was a horse day.

After the last two (too) strenuous rides past bee-boxes and stings, I opted to spend some quality time with Lord Duquesne in the arena rather than take him out on the orchard roads.

Before I groomed and saddled him, however, I turned him loose in the arena, so that if he felt like bucking and carrying on like a wild ass of the desert, he could do so without jarring my spine. He trotted back and forth with his tail in the air (a sign that he was feeling full of his senior self) and touched noses with the two little goats who recently arrived at the ranch.

Then I curried and curried and curried and left waffle-shaped wads of hair all over the saddling area. Currying, if you don't know the term, involves running a rubber scrubbing tool over the horse's coat in small circles, trying to keep more or less in the direction of the horse's hair. It loosens a lot of dirt and dandruff and loose hair, bringing it to the surface so that the next step, brushing, can sweep the junk off and leave the horse looking shiny and clean.

Then it was time for the arena, and some basic communication reboots. Turns with a direct rein, turns with a lifted rein, turns with an indirect rein. Left, and then to the right. Walk, stop, walk, stop. Walk, stop, move hindquarters but keep the forequarters still as possible. Turn on the hindquarters, keeping them as still as possible while the forequarters make the circle. Right, left. Back up, try to make that a straight move, not weaving from side to side. Work on walking so close to the fence that the stirrup bonks against it. Walk sideways, right, left. More backing up. More turns, both directions.

"Give me your head." This is a tough one for a high-headed horse like Dink. We stood, and I gently, gently, suggested with the reins and the bit that he tuck his chin in towards his chest. When he did it, I shouted, "Good boy!" and let him stretch his neck down to relax.

After almost thirty minutes, my thighs were tired from all the strong but subtle cues I'd had to give him. This was not about yanking reins and kicking the horse's sides. Ideally, if you were watching from the side of the arena, you wouldn't be able to see the cues, they'd be so unobtrusive.

We're not that good, by any means.

But we're good enough to open gates without me having to dismount; we're good enough that if my hat blows off in the wind, I can lift it up from the ground with my whip (which is NOT EVER for whacking Dink); and we're good enough that when we were all done, and I was brushing his sweaty hide, Dink reached around with his head and gently draped it over my shoulder, a horsey hug. He knew he did well.

Oh, clever horse!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Sky That Blue

What an intoxicating day!

After the gloom of January, and the nasty cold spots and heavy rains of February, today was simply heavenly. It was so warm that I draped a halter-style shirt over my chubby frame and lay on the cement deck by the pool and pulled tiny weeds out from around my California poppies; slathered with sunblock, soaking in the heat of the sun, I could almost imagine swinging a foot over and dipping it in the water.

But no, that water's still as cold as Sierra snowpack runoff.

For over an hour I lounged, picking weeds while Bernie made magic with his grill: chicken wings and burgers. The sky was that blue, as the little finch could attest.

Earlier in the day, we picked up a 44-lb bag of dog food at the feed store, and saw about 200 baby chickens, Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Barred Rock, and Black Australorp, all peeping at deafening levels, all so heavily laden with cuteness that I wanted to take a dozen home with me.

And later in the day, we sat in the garage and watched the kids playing, listened to the mockingbirds making nesting noises, and watched the sun go down.

Now that's what I call entertainment.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Spring Cleaning

 The rain that washed our neighbor's ornamental plum tree didn't diminish its blossoms at all.

Indeed, the rain and the mild overnight temperatures conspired to make me more ambitious than usual, and I decided to delve more deeply into areas of my life that I have long neglected.

Far from psychological in nature, these areas are in my closet and my bathroom vanity, and I would rather go to a lengthy and soul-searching Confession in church than face my negligence and laziness to be exposed in those easily-forgotten ... landfills.

While the wind advisory played itself out, and the intermittent showers dampened the landscape once again, I got down on all fours with a pair of reading glasses on my nose and a trashbag close at hand. Gingerly, I reached into the vanity cupboard and pulled out a basket with assorted ... stuff in it, two cans of shaving gel, one lotion bottle, a discolored container of aloe vera gel, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and a box of tissues.

Some of that I kept.

The rest was a conglomerate of out-of-date junk (imagine, a tube of toothpaste with an expiration date of 2007!) and stuff I had long forgotten I had. You know those pads you can stick on sore muscles for pain relief? They go out of code, too. And wart remover, and calcium pills big enough to choke a horse, and goodness, that's where that tube of sunblock went three years ago!

The obvious dead stuff entombed in the trash bag, I was free to sort through the basket, and found enough dental floss and gum strengthening sticks to last us another five to ten years, courtesy of our dentist's penchant for loading up goody bags with cheap toothbrushes and stuff every time each of us had a visit. (No wonder he charged so much!)

With everything out of the cabinet, I was able to clean up the dust and what is that? -- spider droppings??? Yuchhhh!

All tidied up, now. I have to say that if I were to peek in some acquaintance's vanity and see such order, I'd probably think that they had some kind of compulsive "neat-nut" problem going on. Yet I will remain satisfied
with my exertions today (I think I've gone back to view the final result at least six times just to marvel at the difference) and accept the suddenly sunny and poofy-cloud-filled afternoon as a kind of reward.

Here's to Spring!