Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mystery Birds

Late this afternoon, two unusual birds landed on our fence. A quick look at the birding book identified them as ringed turtledoves.

I've seen ones like this at the ranch where I board Dink; a pair of the cage birds were given to the owners, and they let them have their run of the barns. They've had quite a few children over the years, those doves.

Very unlikely that this pair are related to the ranch population, though. Out at the ranch, the doves aren't interested in people. These two birds were quite interested in us as we watched them through our broad bedroom window.

The ranch birds, who forage for their food, are also a lot slimmer than these two fat fowl.

According to Wikipedia, they were native to Africa; and according to another page, the darker bird on the left could even be a "Eurasian Collared Dove," which are common in the United States.

Can it be that Eurasian Collared Doves are being sold as Ringed Turtledoves, with the buyers none the wiser? Can in fact the two species interbreed?

There's a feed store up in Manteca that occasionally sells them. Now I must go back there and have a closer look, and check the price.

I must admit I never saw a such a white-colored one before.

And if these visitors were escapees, I hope they find their way home before the red-tailed hawks make their morning patrol.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't Name Them

When we surveyed our pond one spring, we found that out of all our original goldfish, only Rosie was left. The fancy ones, Sully and Margaret, Swishy, Paris, and Face -- a Great Egret had been raiding our front yard and had eaten all our named fish.

A couple friends donated their goldfish to us, and our old crew had had some babies, so we had plenty in the pond once again. Alex turned to me as we watched them and said, "This time, don't name them, please."

I never have named the fish again, either. They are all singly or as a school, "Fish." They come and they go; raccoons and egrets and cats take them as they can, and babies are born, dark and tiny, growing into orange delightful swirls.

This picture is of the podocarpus gracilior that shaded the south side of our house.

Yes. Past tense.

We have a rat (or two) in our attic this year, and after lengthy arguments for months with the pest control company rep, in which I refused to cut this tree down because it shaded so much of the house from the fierce summer sun, I walked down the narrow side "yard" and had a look at where rats might be entering the house, and a closer look at the tree.

Suddenly rats weren't really the focus of my concern. Where two other fern pines (that's the podocarpus) had been planted at the same time off the back patio, the trunks were about six inches in diameter. For whatever reason, this creature's waist was more than sixteen. It was poised and ready to take out the fence, and indeed, had already knocked off a couple roof tiles. Lush and beautiful as it was, rat or no rat, it had to go.

Last night, after the tree guy had given his estimate, I went out and took a pic of the tree, and got a bit teary. I love all my trees very much. This morning, when I walked out onto the street to see the result (the tree cutters arrived at 7:15 am) after it was gone, it was horrible, like Sherman's march to the sea. A desert. A wasteland. A bald-faced side of the house.

The view is now horrible from the inside of the house, too. A big bay window looks out on ... fence. No foliage, no birds playing in the evergreen branches, just boards.

We're leaning towards a few nandina in that area, to make a graceful foliar display year round, but I will always miss this ... Tree.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Playing with Art

 One of the things I've wanted to do this year is to draw or paint more -- to stop my damned fear of performing less than perfectly.

Yesterday, I was thumbing through a magazine and found a picture of Fort Ross -- a place I had never heard of before, but with a little restored church that caught my eye. The idea of sketching it immediately induced a panicky paralysis ... so I opened my Paint program on the laptop and began slathering sloppy virtual paint on a blank screen.

What ensued was not great art, but it was fun. I have no great expectations of myself in Paint. And I kind of liked the surreal sky.

So today, after I'd dithered around the house doing almost nothing, I went out to the studio and grabbed one of the stack of canvases Alex got me for Christmas a couple years ago.

Shakily I put a timid sketch on the white canvas. Then something unexpected happened. Lillian came out to the studio and began to ask me questions. "Is that paint poisonous? Why is there oil under that blue paint?" She was plainly lusting for my oils, but I'm a witch about sharing art supplies, so I didn't care. Instead, I got her a heavy sheet of watercolor paper, found her family's oil pastels, and invited her to art along with me.

Lillian is so bold in her art, and so uncaring of convention that I found myself liberated, and just flung real paint onto the canvas. When I opted not to use colors on the roof that were representational, Lillian piped up that she really liked the red in it. "My cannon looks more like an eel," she said, smiling, not minding that it did. When she began to color her foreground, I noted that she didn't use the color in the photograph, she used a brighter one -- because she liked it better.
I followed suit, using a red.

When Lil had covered her paper, I showed her a magic trick: my paint thinner could transform her oil pastels from sketchy lines to solid color. She was just able to finish her foreground before we went inside to cook dinner, where she was truly helpful, keeping an eye on and stirring the asparagus and mushrooms in their skillet while I focused on frying catfish.

After our dinner, I went back out to the studio to continue painting. Alex and Lil opened the garage door and brushed both shedding dogs, then the Queens all went for a walk. But then something else unexpected happened. One of the kids from next door, Philip, appeared in the driveway with his basketball.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Playing. I don't paint enough, so I'm out here playing with my paints."

"Cool. Did you do all those?" He nodded toward the unfinished stuff on the walls. "That's a lot. They're really good."

Obviously Philip is not an art critic, and he has no idea of what all art I've done, or of how much art I've avoided doing. But he was not the loud and obnoxious punk I've been irritated by in the past. He was absolutely rapt by my brushstrokes; quiet, polite -- indeed, nice. I found I didn't mind him at all, and even pulled out an empty underpainted canvas to show him how using a white canvas was going to make me work more to cover it up, whereas the underpainting of the other canvas (here I sketched some grasses in dark green) actually made things look more interesting.

He left reluctantly at sundown, which was good because I didn't want to send him away, but I did need to get indoors out of the mosquitoes. Bemused, I remembered wondering this morning how on earth I could rise to Pope Benedict's suggested theme for this Lent: "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works." 

So I get an urge to paint, and God sends me someone I haven't liked much, and the two make a positive change in the world.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I, the Crab

I've been following some news stories on the BBC and some political posts on Facebook (Eff-book) and a lot of opinion pieces on

Reading the comments that follow each, I'm struck by the utter ineptitude of posters to make use of the English language in a correct manner.

Certainly I can make allowances for inaccuracy in spelling for a poster from Guatemala or Myanmar, but from English-speaking countries -- why, it seems that if you want your comment to be taken at all seriously, you would at least spell-check your work. And if spell-check isn't something you believe in, and you don't even know how to say something in print that doesn't make you look like a moron, then maybe ... you don't know enough about anything to comment.

Take your time. Use spell check. And if you are a speaker of English who had/has no interest in accuracy of spelling or grammar or punctuation, then you probably have no interest in researching accurately the facts to support your argument.

In which case, shut up.

They're, Their, and There are not interchangeable, and not the same word.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Peas and Love

I wandered outside in the evening light and found one of the pea plants in the front planter sweetly illuminated by the setting sun.

This is a more breathtaking lighting than is apparent, because across the front of the property, a dwarf blue gum eucalyptus spreads its branches, affording the house shadow from the western sun, keeping the yard remarkably cool and inviting even on the hottest days in the summer. For the sun to break through that foliage and spotlight a lowly pea plant is amazing.

A local Chinese restaurant makes a stir fry with snow peas like these, shrimp, sliced water chestnuts, and garlic ... I love it over rice, and now that there is a source for snow peas, can I resist trying to replicate the recipe?

Duhhh. Of course not.

Probably won't be until next week, though. This week brings us Ash Wednesday and the first Friday of Lent, days of abstaining from meat. Shrimp is not meat, you say, and you are correct. But the glazey sauce is almost certainly chicken broth based, which disqualifies it as a Lenten Abstinence dish.

So this week's abstention meals could turn out to be:  Bernie's phenomenal grilled cheese sandwiches; home-made mac and cheese (I do have the heavy cream on hand ... ); Alex's glutworthy salmon croquettes (AKA "Fish cookies); insanely delicious breaded catfish nuggets; Promontory Hot Springs fish soup; or mixed veggies with fake crab meat sauteed in butter over rice.

We love all these dishes, and only refrain from frequent nomming on them because fish and cheese are expensive, and because we eat too much when we have them. How can we do a penitential Lenten meal when we long for it?

I guess the Lenten discipline will come in at eating only one serving, and not stabbing anyone else with one's fork when they reach for the last catfish nugget.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chemical Interactions

A bee.

When a bee stings you, it hurts, unless you're one of the few but lucky beekeepers who aren't bothered by their poisonous sting.

A bee has no personal purpose in life; she lives to live, and feed other bees so that they can live to live. They write no books, they build no monuments. If their hive is invaded by a non-hive member, they kill the non-member; they are naturally bigots that way.

I am certain that the vast majority of people in this country would rather not have bees hanging around their yards, and if a few bees got together and started building a hive in their yards, they would have no compunction at all about calling a pest service and having those bees killed and their houses sprayed so that no other bees got the same appalling idea.

After all, a bee could kill a person -- a child, a man, a woman -- who is allergic to their stings.

But a minority of people who say they know what they are talking about are urging people to contact the government and stop the use of a chemical that may be responsible for a decline in bee populations.

How do we know they know what they are talking about? Why, they say they do. 'Nuff said.

I am also certain that the vast majority of people in this country would rather not have unwanted children hanging around their yards, and would like to have contraceptives available so that no children got the appalling idea of being generated from semen and ova.

After all, an unwanted pregnancy could kill a woman!

But a minority of people who say they know what they are talking about are urging people to contact the government because the government wants to force them to offer the chemicals that are designed to produce a decline in human populations -- something that minority is very worried about, although what they are worried about isn't the decline, but the population itself.

How do we know they know what they are talking about? Why, they've been around for two to four thousand years, and oddly enough, even though they believe that contraceptive chemicals are not necessary, they are a still a minority. Apparently not using contraceptive chemicals and devices doesn't get you the voting bloc you crave.

Child pesticides, yes; bee pesticides, no. Wow.

And just for the record, sometimes wanted pregnancies kill women, too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cranky Friday

For a day in which I did little, it was a busy day.

To start the day, I went back to sleep after I woke up, hoping for a nice entertaining dream sequence. The after 6 am until 8 am dreams always seem to be vivid ones, but today was not the case. I dreamt that I was trying to fall asleep, which when it happens, is not only annoying but leaves me tired and cranky.

I fed the dogs and ate a meager breakfast of tomato juice and cottage cheese, preparing myself for the real breakfast of the day: popcorn and Coke. We drove out the road and got eggs, and then were pretty much ready to go see This Means War.

We watched the movie. The review will be on line Monday on the Piker Press, at which point I'll try to remember to link to it.

When we got home, Bernie opted to go to a local park with Alex, the dogs, and the girls (Mei-Mei, Elena, and Lil), while I stayed behind and worked on the cover image for Monday's Press. The picture on the left will be a small part of that illustration.

The Flickr Library of Congress and Smithsonian galleries are loaded with uncopyrighted material, and it was rather fun picking out pictures of people and messing with them in Photoshop. I say "rather" fun because no matter how much I promise myself that I'm going to play at artwork for no particular purpose, every piece of art I do is "for" something, and has no room for all-out disasters. And so until sundown, I worked.

I'm pleased with the finished illustration, and felt it was well worth the effort. 

Currently I'm still holed up in our room, because Lillian is watching some anime series on Netflix. Anime makes me want to heave, which I suppose makes me a kind of Philistine. I'd tell you how I really feel, but sometimes it is truly better for me to keep my mouth shut.

Tomorrow is more work on the Press, and church in the evening. Sunday is going to be for nuthin.'

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wild Creatures

No one planted these cosmos, at least not on purpose.

Their parent plants weren't even in that area -- they were about twenty feet away on the back bank. But seeds were shed onto the pool deck, and subsequently swept, along with redwood needles (top right) and a euonymus leaf (top center) to a plantless little place down at the far end of the pool under the grapevine.

Through the dry autumn and winter, there was nothing growing there. But one rain storm, and here are little survivors venturing into the sun, green and already sending secondary leaves out.

I cleared the weeds in that part of the garden, leaving all the cosmos and all the California poppy sprouts. And I just happen to have a spare emitter from my irrigation system that will reach them.

I can't wait to see them blossom pink above the poppy orange.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


In the last week or so, I -- in my capacity as Managing Editor of the Piker Press -- received two very long excerpts of novels.

One submission was double-spaced lines, which I hate reading on the computer. If I'm editing a manuscript for pay, it's fine, it gives me space to write notes or make corrections. But just to read? Ugh. The other was some kind of locked format with a small and fussy-looking font. I had to go to 150% zoom just to read the thing.

Both submissions were over 20,000 words.

I read them both, and then foolishly after the fact Googled the authors. Both stories are already available in ebook formats for Kindle. They're both already published.

Now what did the authors expect from the Piker Press?

I asked both authors that very question, and I must have tapped my inner Swahili, because neither one had a coherent answer for me.

One thought that having me do a review of the book would be wonderful, which seemed odd to me because I told the author up front that although it was a good story idea, the writing was stilted. If I did a review of the book, I'd have to trash it, because I would NOT want to read that kind of dull writing, or put up with all the spelling and typographical errors and grammatical mistakes.

The other author was readable, but answered that the work wasn't available to the Press in its entirety -- just the excerpt, so as to drive sales of the book on Amazon. Hmm. A 20k excerpt would be ... ten weeks of story to get to the end and find ... no ending? And in the publishing of the excerpt, I would edit and correct all the spelling errors and grammar, whereupon an interested reader would buy the book and be annoyed at all the mistakes?

I don't know that I care to correct 20k words for free, if the story itself is too important to publish in the Press.

Live and learn. I've never had this kind of goofiness in a submission before -- maybe it's a new fad. At least the next time, I'll know what questions to ask ahead of time, and save myself some hours of irritating reading.

The pinkish bell? Just a photo I was playing with in Photoshop. Don't worry about it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Waking and End of the Day

We've got an enormous window in our bedroom, six feet by five feet, and we normally do not have the blinds drawn down, as we love the view of the back garden and pool.

This morning, I woke to Bernie saying, "There's a hawk in the tree."

The hawk was agreeably inclined to stay there until my eyes were uncrossed. Bern got our binoculars and we observed the unmoving bird for a while. When I was sufficiently awake, I went out with my camera, collecting Lillian along the way, and we went to the end of our little yard to stare up at the red-shouldered hawk.

Now that's the way to start the day.

Most of the day I spent working on getting next Monday's Piker Press ready to turn over, trying to get ahead of the game so that Monday isn't a stress maelstrom for me.

Then was dinner, then was church. Both were wonderful. We went to Mass at St. Stanislaus in Modesto, where Fr. Ramon presided over a most reverential service. Then was home again, and I read the evening news, replied to some emails, and then, opened a file.

It was the second chapter of the semi-named Aser Murder Mystery. I wrote for a while; then handed the laptop to Bernie for approval.

He gave Chapter Two: Storming a Castle a thumbs up.  I pretty much love this story, and am really glad that the edit and rewrite are coming along.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Annoying 1 + Annoying 1 = Coolness!

The white geranium that I planted late last summer has survived the winter. I'm still not sure that a white geranium will look "right" when all the other geraniums are variations of reds, but I'm willing to give it a chance to get four feet tall and six feet across like the old-timer magentas and reds.

Over the geraniums in this wonderfully unseasonally early spring, a cloud of gnats swirls and darts.

I'm not fond of gnats -- like my mother before me, if a gnat decides to have a taste of my skin, days of pain and itching and swelling ensue. And so, seeing the gnats out over the geraniums makes me squint my eyes and wonder where the birds are that are supposed to be eating these buggies.

From inside the house, where Lillian has discovered dancing to XBox360, comes thumping music.

She's enjoying dancing, and that's all to the good. I'd dance, too, if my knee wasn't so painful from the exertion of horsey exercises in the arena yesterday. (Ow, in many muscles as well.) Nevertheless, I'm a quiet old granny who prefers the sound of the wind in the trees or the calls of birds to recorded music, by and large.

We sat on the front porch this evening, watching the sun lower in the sky. Lillian and her friend Megan were dancing to the XBox, and the thumping beat and music filtered out to us. In the glow of the late afternoon sun, the gnats were illuminated in their jittery swarm.

In an astonishing meld of living creatures and electronic music, the annoyances were transformed into an utterly delightful show. The gnats truly looked like they were dancing to the music, and they were very good at it. I could watch gnats dance to those tunes all day.

Go gnats! I can always wear insect repellant.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

And Now, More Awesome Crappy Poetry!

Winter Full Moon

In freezing silence
the Moon rains down

In scorching blue light
the Moon beams down

Wake you from your sleep?
You betcha
Dispel all your dreams?
I got it

In my blinds closing
the Moon triumphs

In my sleeping late
the Moon snickers
and leaves

Schedule all thrown off?
You betcha
Dragging through the day?
I got it

In my dreams tonight
the Moon shrouded --
rain clouds

In the rain drop sounds
the Moon hidden

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Foodie Day

Bernie and John formally approached me the other day and whined that they wanted a ham meat pie. Seriously, it was a concerted, unified, formal whine. They knew that I could not resist such a plea.

And so, the early afternoon found me cutting up ham and potatoes in huge but equal amounts, and rolling out crusts for my biggest baking dish. Served with broth from the cooked ham and taters, and topped with freshly-chopped yellow onions, the ham meat pie was a greatly-appreciated success.

It's an easy dish to make, and since I had no other wrenching demands today, I opted to spend more time in the kitchen. I made more fresh butter and ranch dressing from heavy cream, and because tomorrow I plan on riding, I pushed on and made meatballs and sauce.

This is just one of those things I look at in my life and ask why the hell I never tried to figure out it out before. I remember loving Tony's Cottage Inn and their spaghetti with meatballs since I was a tiny child. Yet it is only in this past year that I attempted to make meatballs, or the accompanying sauce.

Of course Bernie and I have made spaghetti with meat sauce since we were first married. We used hamburger and put tomato sauce, garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper into it, and we were content. When we could afford it, we went to Tony's for the real deal, though, which wasn't often. Nearly a quarter century has passed since we lived on that side of the continent; I managed one meal of spaghetti with Tony's meatball (one is costly, two is exorbitant) when I was back there five (can it really be five?) years ago.

Meatballs and a good tomato sauce are an investment. The money to fly back East, stay at a hotel, order an entree -- wow. So much more thrifty, especially when I eat whatever is left over from the main meal for breakfasts, delicious meatballs every day, not a single one going to waste.

Right now I'm still making them by eye and smell ... I have no solid measurements yet.

But oh, they're even better than Tony's.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Channel Change

A week ago, Winter clicked over into Spring.

It's a sweet sensation, feeling the air so abruptly different from one day to the next, from having a chilly tinge that makes you want to put on your coat to the gentle coolness that makes you want to put on shorts. Maybe it's a humidity issue; I don't know.

The birds know what it is, however: there's definite pairing up and struttin' stuff going on, and I've been watching broad V's of geese headed north.

I do believe it's time to plant my onion sets, and buy my tomato seeds.

The picture is an example of random cellular pattern (in an uncreated universe) on a spider plant leaf. This spider plant decided that it wanted a pure white stripe down the middle for no reason at all. How clever an artist!

It was only about 40 degrees this morning when I got up, so I gulped some breakfast, read the news, and took off for the ranch to ride Dink out in the orchards before the bees were active. There are about thirty blossoms in the local orchards, and about a hundred bazillion bees in their bee boxes, so the little ladies are fair-to-middlin' angry when they go outside and find there isn't anything worth their while. I didn't want to get stung again.

Having scouted a riding route by car, (checking for bee boxes) I called Dink away from his breakfast and off we went. He was quite entertained by the change from the usual roads, and there has been enough work on irrigation systems that what we saw was different from the last time we'd taken those roads. A workout was good for him and good for me; we even did some trotting. He did the trotting, I did the balancing, and though his legs were moving more than mine, I was puffing more than he after the trot-work. Riding properly is exercise.

The other reason I was out there early was to avoid Wonder Woman, who spends hours at the ranch on Saturdays, messing with her horses. (Or maybe they're her clients' horses. Don't know, don't care.) All I know is that early in the day, none of the other boarders are around, and that makes for a quiet prep time, and a relaxing horsey visit.

By the time we got back to the ranch, the temperature was up to 56 degrees, and a bee was determined to land on Dink's face as I fed him his pan of Senior Feed. He was not amused, tossing his head and pinning his ears at the insect, who finally figured out that his white blaze on his face was not an almond blossom. Another bee landed on his rump to check out the white parts of his hide; Dink switched his tail and whacked the bee smartly, which caused the bee to zoom back and forth in tight circles, probably shouting threats and challenges.

Until the blossoms of the orchards explode into a sea of pink and white, Dink and I will probably stick to riding in the arena at the ranch. He hates arena work, and I hate convincing him to work in the arena, but it beats getting stung, for sure.

The birds in the picture are Brewer's blackbirds (I think) and they look very silly in the neighbor's trees. They're ready for Spring, too.