Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

Yes, that's the way to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Sunny, 63 degrees, done with the hard work of the day, and my faithful dog beside me.

I walked to Walgreens this morning (took about an hour or so) for my last bit of Christmas shopping; inexplicably Walgreens always seems to have the best dog toys around. I picked out a couple squeakies for Howie and Sebastian, and then went to the next store in the parking lot, an automotive store, for a car wash mitt.

Howie has had a new wash mitt to mangle every year we've had him, I believe. I'm not sure why a wash mitt is so much fun to bite, but it would hardly be Christmas for him without one. The last few years I've sewn a squeaker into the mitt for added spice.

After my walk, I went out to the ranch to give Dink his Christmas gift -- a clean paddock. Opening his gate, I sent him out to the arena to roll in the dirt (which he did immediately) and then let his buddies Eddie and The Colt out to run, too. They galloped around rather crazily for a while, then settled down to graze on stray weeds and bits of Other Horses' Hay, which tastes much better than their own. I shoveled and dumped the wheelbarrow and shoveled some more. The horses all got a little treat when they went back into their paddocks like gentlemen.

Next, a casserole to assuage the hungers of all and sundry, a lasagna casserole. That is, a casserole with the sauce, the cheeses, the meat ... and mini-farfalle noodles. Then the sun, and the smile.

Such a smile -- the smile of a woman who knows that beneath the area rugs in the front room and the family room is tile, and it is DONE, and it looks lovely:

And with that, Merry Christmas to all, stay warm, and don't forget -- Christmas Shopping Season is the only thing that is over. The Christmas Season is only about to begin.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Testing My Limits

Today our webhost mucked up our files again, making them inaccessible to me. Now they say that all I have to do is use something called FTP to get to the files, but I've looked at that page and have no idea how to make use of it.

That means no Piker Press until the issue is resolved or Josh wakes up and can assist. Nevertheless, I think I can use this picture for one of the stories, and link to it from this blog. Something to remember, I guess.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ah, Winter Weather

The time change happens, your sense of daybreak gets messed up, and what looks like six in the morning turns out to be nine ... whoops, heavy Tule fog has really thrown off your day.

By the time you read the news and the comics, and drink your tea, feed the dogs, stoke the fire, put the jammies in the hamper and get dressed, it's nearly eleven o' clock and time to be thinking about what you're having for lunch and cooking for the midday meal.

A quick snack to break your nightly fast, a finger-numbing rummage through the freezer for some chicken filets that have mysteriously migrated to the bottom of the storage. You look at your watch and realize that you have almost five hours of daylight left to weed the winter garden, rake leaves into the street, go to the store for bread, stop at the Post Office, pick up the grand-daughter at school, get out to the yard to clean up dog poop, and take the recyclables down to the City Recycle Center.

Bam! It's dark, midday meal is done, the fog has come back up again, and the comfy pajamas seem like an oasis in a chilly desert night.

A warm laptop computer. A story you got to thinking about when you were supposed to be praying at church last Sunday. Thick, cushiony socks.

The glass of wine, and a tiny plate of summer sausage and walnuts.

Another winter tale begins.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

At Last, Rain

I've been praying for rain, even just a little shower. The Valley air has been so dirty that all of us have been suffering from sinus irritation. Last night, our prayers were answered, and we got that little shower. What a beautiful sound to wake up to: raindrops on puddles.

By afternoon, the rain had stopped, and the black phoebe that usually is our harbinger of rain showed up. We laughed and chided him for being a bit late on his forecast. However, about three hours later, the sky darkened and it began to rain again, indeed, to pour, putting an end to Bernie's tile-cutting outside.

The tools were put away, and then the gutter filled up and overflowed onto the sidewalk, the back patio was under about half an inch of water, and the rain still came down. I went out front with a rake and cleared the storm drain, and John got a shovel and dug a trench on the south side of the house to drain the back patio, bless his heart.

Thank you God for the rain.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Artsy Fartsy

I wanted to do an illustration for Pete McArdle's funny story, "The Scarsdale Doctors Diet" in the Piker Press. I took a bunch of pics of the full moon on Sunday night, and got one that wasn't horrible.

But I could even do that in Photoshop without the photo! It wasn't dramatic enough as a moon shot, and I spent a pointless twenty minutes looking for a tree silhouette in public domain stuff on line ... then realized I have lots of tree silhouettes in my own photos.

In my Flickr account, I found one that seemed to fit the bill: a nice silhouette, a sky that was not too busy, colors that were simple.

Then I bled the black out of the moon shot, (trying to get a blue background instead of a black one) and turned to the other photo. I inverted the colors on the tree shot to make the branches come out white, selected the blue color from the bottom of the inverted pic -- a nicer blue than I came up with on the moon pic -- and spread it upward on the sky of the tree image. Back to the other pic again.  I selected the sky on the moon shot with the "Magic Wand" tool, inverted the selection so that I got only the moon, and pasted it on the tree shot. Yeah.

I did some tinkering with the blue colors and the "Paintbrush" tool (making it about 50% opacity and a fuzzy edge) and scrubbed at the sky a little -- I didn't want it perfectly homogenous, but didn't want a lot of variation, either.

By this point, I'd spent about 40 minutes from inception to a reasonable product. Four years ago, it would have taken me all day and a case of the hives to boot. Practice, practice, practice. Do, do, do. Dang, it pisses me off when good advice really does pan out if you take it. Could not my artistic ability have sprung forth fully-formed from the brow of Zeus and saved me all the sweat and nerves and twitches?

With the final image on the screen, I reduced the size, and got one of the best Photoshop images I ever thought I'd get.

My, that sure feels fine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Done Before Christmas?

The tiling project has picked up again, after a nice summer off. Doing the kitchen was a major effort, lots of tile cutting and nerves going around the island to meet on the other side with all the lines perfect. Whew!

The next stage was the threshold between the kitchen and the front room. The outcroppings of wall aren't exactly square, so I opted to do a little visual song-and-dance designed to break up the lines. The small tiles in the center also don't line up with big sibling tiles -- I suppose they could have if we were willing to cut slivers off of a bunch of them -- so I thought the staggered double line of reddish tiles (cut to random lengths) would throw those straight-line-eyeballs off the track. I love the way it turned out, just what I wanted.

Next step is a lot easier: I intended for the pattern in the kitchen to appear to go under the threshold and come out the other side as though the pattern hadn't been interrupted. Serendipity and the help of the angels had that pattern emerging right at the edge of the lower red border. No cutting of weird lengths was necessary!

And now it's off to the races! You can't really see it, but there is a line drawn on the floor with a Sharpie that runs from the edge of the hearth in the kitchen to the front door. Forget chalklines, I'm in love with a laser to make the line straight. We'll follow that line to the front door, then fill in to the right, then come back and do the other half in front of the kitchen threshold.

Since we don't have to learn HOW to do it this time, I admit it is a lot easier.

Still one helluva workout, though.

Friday, November 08, 2013

No Debate Here on Health Insurance

This morning we did something surprising: we signed up for health insurance under the Covered California system. It took about half a chatty hour with a charming insurance salesman named Brian, and presto, we're covered as of January 1st, 2014.

After Bernie's job at New United Motors and Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI) went belly-up, we had an interval of time with a COBRA extension of our health insurance. We applied for continued coverage with the same company so that there would not be any question of concealed health conditions. Well, Health Net really didn't give a shit, and succinctly informed me that they would not cover me at all, even though they had records proving that the herniated disk in my neck was not considered to be worthy of any medical procedure ... Well, they wouldn't unless I was willing to have an MRI done at my own expense and prove that a miracle had happened and the herniation had magically disappeared.  Or unless I was willing to pay more per month for our health insurance than we were taking in from Bernie's retirement.

We opted not to go back on the health insurance grid. Oh well. Since that time, I've incurred $17 a year in flu shots, and needed no other medical treatment, thank God. With the money we didn't spend on health insurance, we could have put a down payment on a modest house. With the money we didn't spend on health insurance, we could pay our mortgage, and eat.

People have really been slamming what they call "Obamacare," virtually pissing all over it and scratching dirt behind them to boot. Yet as of the first of the year, should I get hit by some asshole on her cell-phone while driving her monster SUV, I could actually receive hospital care instead of waving off an ambulance with my broken bones because I have no way of paying big medical bills without re-mortgaging my house, going bankrupt, and putting the whole family into a tiny apartment plus Bern and I going back to work at what would probably be minimum wage part-time jobs. Slam that, haters. I like most of all that the health coverage we're going to get includes screening procedures, like mammograms and colonoscopies. (I've been sitting on an other-shore stash of money for my next colonoscopy -- colon cancer is THE one preventable cancer if you can (so to speak) get your ass to the doctor and have pre-cancerous growths removed -- and with a family history that gives me a one in four chance of developing it, that's an important procedure.) California was one of the few states that opted to use their federally-supplied monies and arrange their own version of health care; as a result, we're not as impacted and messed up as other states who said, "To hell with Obamacare, let the Feds figure it out." Good on you, California.

I'm glad for the time I was without health care, as it has helped me begin to come to terms with my own mortality, and has given me a little clearer sight into the real human condition -- that being covered by health insurance in no way guarantees that you will not die untimely or die pointlessly or die before you think you are ready or deserve to die. Nevertheless, I'm grateful for the coverage that will allow me to receive some sensible care when I need it in the future.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

An Autumn Evening

My studio in the garage is already starting to get chilly in the evenings, already too chilly to want to work out here in the mornings. In another week, I'll be swearing about having not laid out the cash to insulate the ceiling over the summer as I promised myself last January that I would.

There are so many things I keep saying I'll do: finish those novels, put my finished novels up on Amazon Kindle Direct; finish the six oil paintings hanging around the studio, continue with some colored-pencil sketches I was really having fun with months ago; make a comforter from an old polyester blanket and a deliciously-textured cotton duvet cover someone gave me, sew a couple baby outfits, hem the veils that cover my mouth, cheeks, and ears while I'm riding during fly season and hot sunny days.

Everything takes time.

I did manage to get a winter garden planted, with seed onions, spinach, beets for beet greens (I already ate a few of the tiny leaves and they are wonderful), chard, lots of snow peas, and yesterday I finally saw some of my lettuces sprouting -- it's red-leaf lettuce and the tiny dark leaves were nearly invisible against the soil. Planting the garden took a couple days, working the soil, sowing seeds, weaving a twine lattice across the south planters so that cats would stop digging in it (had to replant the beets after that), weeding out the rogue nasturtiums that insist on popping up to strangle all the other plants.

Today I caught up on the last of the laundry to be folded, went out to the ranch and exercised the horse in the arena, then dunged out his paddock. After a shower, I began making braised lamb shanks (time-consuming but well worth the time spent) and gorditas (fat little tortillas) for dinner. John made tzatziki (cucumbers and stuff in Greek yogurt) to accompany the lamb.

Good work, a feast, and a long autumn evening to watch NFL football and ponder the paths life takes and to question the decisions of coaches.

Projects can wait for a day or two, I think.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Orange Is Not Yellow

Pumpkins. We all know what color jack o'lantern pumpkins are. They're orange. Any little kid with a box of crayons knows this. Orange, orange, orange.

If you had gone into your local supermarket in October, and asked the produce manager why he put out all those yellow pumpkins, he'd have squinted at you with please-go-the-bakery-and-bother-someone-else eyes, and tried to appease you by telling you that the pumpkins were not yellow, that summer squash over there is yellow, those onions in that bin are yellow, the lemons are yellow, the Yellow Delicious apples in the apple display are yellow, but the pumpkins are not. They are orange.

And he would be right.

Now it is true, that in olden days, in Gloucester, the cattle in pasture ingested a flower known as "Lady's Bedstraw" (galium verum) and that their milk was a sometimes a dark yellow because of it. But you'd think that pretending that darker-colored cheese was superior to lighter-colored cheese was something we'd have grown past after 500 years.

But no, we haven't. At the bottom is Nob Hill white sharp cheddar cheese. I've loved it and used it for more than 20 years, when I couldn't get SaveMart's New York sharp cheddar cheese. They were comparable, good cheeses which made my homemade macaroni and cheese a family favorite. SaveMart stopped offering the white cheddar a few years ago, so I went to Raley's to get the Nob Hill white cheddar, buying it 4 pounds at a time.

Not just for the mac and cheese, but also for tacos, enchiladas, nachos, football game noshes, and puffy cheese croissant appetizers. Not to mention putting it in refried beans and black bean chili -- so very yummy.

Well, time passes and the powers that be in Raley's marketing department dumped the white cheddar staple, going exclusively to cheddar cheese the color of the pumpkins in the first picture. I bought the last two packages of the white cheddar last week.

It's billed as "yellow" cheddar, but it's not yellow, it's ORANGE. A vegetable dye called annatto is added to it to make it orange.

Does it taste the same? I suppose it does, mostly. I'm reminded of an experiment I did with purple potatoes, making them into mashed potatoes. I put a pat of butter on the lavender mound of mash, and my stomach did a quick turnover. It wasn't nasty, it was just ... not what mashed potatoes should look like. I closed my eyes and I tasted potato, for sure, but I've never tried to serve that to the family again. So the orange cheddar may taste approximately the same, but it isn't THE SAME.

To get annatto into the cheese, do you sprinkle it on top? Do you feed the annatto to the cows who are producing the milk to make the cheese? Of course not, it would ruin the milk, and certainly wouldn't turn out that orange.  And sprinkling it on top would do nothing but color the top. So instead of letting your cheddar sit and cure and sharpen, you MIX -- you PROCESS -- the annatto into the cheese. The result is a rubbery feel, almost like Velveeta.

To their credit, both Raley's and SaveMart offer some top-shelf sharp cheddar cheeses that are white, imported from Ireland and Australia -- but are just a bit pricey for heavy duty use. Fortunately Trader Joe's carries a sharp cheddar called Cabot, from Canada, white, not heavily processed, delicious and crumbly at the edges. That's the cheese at the top of the picture, my new go-to cheese.

I'm waiting to see if the next phase of Annattization produces orange brie, or orange gouda, or what would you think of orange bleu cheese? Orange mozzarella? Orange pecorino romano?

Makes as much sense as orange cheddar.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I dream about houses a lot.

In dreams of longing, I somehow get transported to the house on Louther Street in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. We lived there for a miniscule year and three months; it was a five-bedroom palace of neglected antiquity, with huge wooden pillars, a warped hardwood floor, eleven-foot ceilings ... and I could have lived there all the rest of my days. I loved that house. Should I be so fortunate as to get to Heaven, that house -- or its counterpart -- will be mine.

But for many years, every house in my dreams has been what was my mother's house. In my dreams, I lived there, no matter that nearly 40 years have passed since I did. The enclosed back porch, what had been my bedroom, the living room, the side yard ... one or more features would form the backdrop of my dreams. There's no wonder at that; my mother's decline into Alzheimer's and my sister's death anchored my subconscious there. What I had to do, and what I failed to do, what I watched crumble into an unholy mess -- all those things burned themselves into my heart.

Waking from dreams of my mother's house, I'd sigh, and wonder if I'd ever be free of it, rise, and go about the day. Sometimes you just have to let the dreams go, otherwise, you go nuts trying to outsmart your subconscious.

A couple nights ago, I was back there again, but there was a difference. Yes, there was still a sense of frustration that things couldn't be put right; yes, there was still a sense of accusation that I had failed somehow; but one thing was different: I was packing stuff up, getting ready to move away.

I stood at the top of the stairs, looking at the basement (that my father had in real life dug out and finished, but in the dream had been made into two rooms), and thought, "Well, I'll be out of here soon, and won't have to come back again."

What a thought for a dream! All the symbols in dreams are our own selves. Did my dream mean that I am soon going to die, and so the house that is me will be left behind?

When I woke, I just drifted with the sense of relief in the dream, and let it go at that. We're all going to die, some sooner than others, and I can't do anything about that. But relief -- that made me smile.

The next night, I dreamed I was back in Mifflintown (where I grew up) again, but instead of being in my mother's house, I was in this truly cool little boutique hotel down town, with wide cement steps to the upstairs, and comfy rooms. Why haven't I always stayed here when I've visited? I asked myself in the dream. It was so pleasant, and peaceful, and pretty -- a delightful fabrication of my dreaming mind.

And then, perhaps born of the triumph of not being in my mother's house, the next night I dreamed that I was staying in a beach-side resort, with very wide floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the beach, and a flight of wooden stairs leading from sliding doors off the bedroom to a deck below on the beach. Yeah. I could get into that. Big dark brown stones made a natural windbreak for the deck, and the sand was the light brown of the Pacific coast rather than the white sand of the Atlantic. I love it here, I thought, and woke up.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Re-Capturing A Glow

Having the old laptop come back to life on my desk made me think of the files that were on it. I had a look around them, and with a stomach-clenching start, realized that my six novels were NOT there. The next four were, in various states of unedited/unfinished-ness, but I have them backed up on the work laptop and a thumb drive already. With horror I went to the desktop machine, that perverse Windows 7 HP lemon ... oh, no, that's where the completed novels were? What had I been thinking?

When I transferred those files from my first (and now dead and gone to recycle bin) laptop, I hadn't known that the desktop was a lemon, that's what I had been thinking. Well, what the hell, I thought, I could work with those files on the Big Screen -- maybe that would help me catch typos!

I knew that Character Assassin needed "justified" print (CA was actually my first novel in print) so I thought I'd just do that and see if I still remembered how ...

And thus began the next few hours of sweat and twitchiness: the Word program I had installed on the desktop would not allow me to use "Thai Distributed Justify," which had worked so nicely with the other books. Again and again I typed those three words into Word's "Help" program, Google Search, back to Word, calling up Dreamer and seeing "Thai Distributed Justify" in its formatting, unable to find it for CA ... OMG, don't tell me that Windows 7 won't work with my old 2002 Word program!

I turned off the Big Screen and turned on my Windows Vista laptop. Yes, you can access Thai Distributed there. I turned Vista off and turned on Windows 7 laptop. Sweating bullets of relief, I found Thai Distributed there, too. Why the hell wasn't it on Big Screen -- all my machines had the same Word 2002 disk uploaded -- and what the hell might have happened to my files while they were being mauled by Lemon Big Screen?

There were two thumb drives in the desk drawer, and neither one of them had my novels on them.  With a steadily droning "Eeeeeeeeee" of horror running through my head, I carefully loaded the novels from Big Screen onto the thumb drive with palsied hands, checking each one to make sure that Page One and The End were on each. Lamaze breathing exercises and glugged ice water helped me keep from falling into a panic attack.

Did you know that it's okay to mention "Stress Sweat" nowadays? Yes, it is, I heard it on a television commercial just the other night. The ad noted that "Stress Sweat" is really smelly, different than "Exercise Sweat" -- duh! After I made sure that every sentence of my novels had successfully loaded onto Windows 7 Laptop, I re-formatted Out With the Trash to Thai Distributed justification. It looks sharp.

And then I took a shower because I stunk.

But you know what? Making sure that my novel files had lifeboats gave me some time to spend with them, and I liked what I saw. I think I'm ready now to start working with them again, and get Out With the Trash into circulation.

Fan that little spark, and make Sand a writer again, not simply an editor.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Caught Up in a Whirlwind

Thousands upon thousands of fragments spiral around you, catching the light on their shiny-sides, contrasting with the deep blue sky with their golden harvest sides, sparkling, flying, sailing, dazzling, twenty feet wide, seventy feet high ...

We picked Lillian up at her rural charter school and for a change of habit, took Division D road to take us home. On the way, we saw a farmer on a big tractor tilling his field, which had recently held rows of corn. The chaff of his corn-cutting mixed with the dirt, and the breeze conspired with the  fragments to produce a dust-devil, dancing and swirling only about 50 feet away from the road. We stopped the car (there was no traffic behind us) and watched it glittering.

With amazement, we held our breaths as the dust-devil headed toward us, carrying the shreds of cornstalk leaves; with awe we looked around us and up through the Vibe's moon-roof to see the dust-devil move over the car in its mini-tornado, sparks of light and dark and tan weaving through the air above and around us. Within minutes, it had jumped a levee and went to play among the trees along the river.

In 59 years of life, I have never seen anything like that. Inside a dust-devil, who could have thought of such an event. O God, it was so beautiful, thank You for such a blessing.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ghost in the Machine

So this morning, I was standing at my work table in the studio, looking at the funnies and the BBC and the weather, using my laptop. On the right end of the table, my old laptop sat, closed up, unplugged, turned off.

Bernie's been telling me for over a year now that I have to get over my sentimentality and ditch the old laptop; an IMPORTANT WINDOWS UPDATE destroyed its optical drive (not lying, it really did, my computer and many many other people's computers) and made it a bit unstable at times. Plus the power cord connection is a bit loose and the battery no longer holds a charge.

But I have a lot of photos still on it, and the keyboard action is so comfortable and classy ... also, it runs with Vista OS and that means my old scanner still works with it, which my newer Windows 7 machines will not allow.

Anyway, this morning, as I was looking at the weather, I heard an odd yet familiar sound. At the end of the table, untouched by me or anything else, the old laptop turned itself on. I'm not shitting you, it did. Even with a dead battery, it turned itself on.

I opened it, and saw the background of my desktop, and then with a barely audible little yip, the screen went dead. Of course it did. The battery has no juice.

I plugged its power cord into the side, pressed the "Power" button, and fired it up. I used it all morning without problem, and now the machine display says that I have a fully charged battery.

Did my machine, upon whom I have written so many words, manipulated so many images, miss me that much? Indeed, I am writing this on it right now.

Say "Hello," Machine.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mortality and Monitors

A week ago last Thursday, I had an interesting day. While at the supermarket, I walked past a woman wearing a particularly vile perfume. Even though I never got within 15 feet of her (Bernie hustled me in the opposite direction as soon as he caught the first whiff), my eyes began to burn and tears welled up, my nasal passages and lungs burned, and I began to cough. Twenty minutes later, I felt dizzy and sick, and couldn't draw a full breath.

By mid-afternoon, I still couldn't eat or drink anything; my stomach felt tight and bloated. I felt like I was running out of air, but couldn't draw a deep breath. Couldn't. I seriously began to wonder if my time on Earth was up.

Fortunately, by nightfall, I was able to take full breaths again, and I am alive to tell about it. Being alive and not dying made me think about things I've been putting off, things I've been Not Doing Because They Are Silly.

One of the things I've been Not Doing is getting a TV for our bedroom. Why would we need a TV in the bedroom? Oh, maybe because we hog the living room TV watching Food Network most evenings, or DVDs that only Bernie and I watch; and sometimes I just don't want to watch Lillian's choice of cartoons. Another of the Not Doing things is replacing my desktop computer monitor. My little Sony has been a workhorse since 2003, and it still works, but truly, technology has made some advancements since then.

So since I actually had the money stashed away in my Other Shore account, why not use it before some random perfume-reeking cow does me in? On Saturday I killed two Things with one purchase. For the living room, I bought a monster 50" TV so that we can see every high-definition booger and crumb on our favorite football players, and put the 37" TV on my desk in the bedroom. We get cable back there, and a high-def TV isn't awful to be close to.

Oh, my goodness, Photoshop has taken on a whole new level of fun-ness. And you would be surprised how very quickly one can get used to having a monitor that size.

And here I am, alive, and enjoying the Silly Thing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


This is the best Moon picture I've ever taken with my Sony camera. I used the action setting and it came out pretty good. We've been sitting outside in the evenings, in the shade of the eucalyptus tree, watching ants move their colonies into my raised vegetable beds. Like geese flying south, or dogs shedding their summer undercoats, ants moving eggs is a sure sign that autumn is nearby.

This evening sitting time cuts into blogging time, and as a result, I haven't had many entries over the past couple months. I'll make up for that with some mightily-compressed paragraphs, bringing readers and myself up to date.

We rented a truck and bought a cord of almond wood. The suspension on the Chevy Prism (2000, and 281,000 miles) is really getting rough, and without an income, replacing the Vibe (2003) isn't an option, so we opted out of ferrying the wood in the cars' trunks and spent a few Andy Jacksons and got the wood. It's stacked now, after one of the most pleasant stacking experiences I've ever had; the weather in the mornings has been wonderfully cool (it was only over 100 degrees when we picked up the wood) and I could take as much time as I needed to bring it in and find niches for each piece. I swear every other year we got wood coincided with a hellish heat wave. Also, possibly because Dink is off pasture and in a paddock, I may have better upper-body condition from shoveling horseshit cleaning up after him.

Ah, Dink. The old man is in fine fettle at 23 years of age, still good under saddle so that I can ride him out alone if need be. He's feeling quite feisty for his years, and I've had to really ride like I know what I'm doing as he prances and postures, like liquid, like wind-blown clouds, surging forward, lofting side to side, as we prepare to ride out into the orchards. I rode today, too; although he was an asshole prior to the ride, he was perfect on it. Good horse.

Joan (also called JoMa) is in a phase of vocabulary-building known as the Screaming Meemies. Can't figure out what she wants? She will pierce your eardrums for you until you do with a scream that is incredibly high-pitched and pure mind-blasting sound. I can't wait for her to grow through this one. She's also taking a few steps, but can still travel faster quadrupedally.

Lillian started school at the Historic Durham Ferry campus of Venture Academy. Already we can see a difference in her homework assignments: she's expected to learn practical English and math! After six years of schlock and stupidity, (no wait, her fourth-grade teacher was really good) it looks like she will finally learn something that might actually stand her in good stead.

Bernie has expanded his culinary skills to include tempura and a kickass key lime pie.

I tackled a new cooking skill, too. Mine had to do with buying whole squid, and learning to clean and cut them up. But that's a whole blog post of its own, and I hope you'll check back for "Dancing with the Squid" in days to come.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Good Life

I think that this is my favorite picture of me in the past ten years.

Just looking at it reminds me of how pleasantly cool the water was on my be-sneakered feet after a two-hour ride; how sweet the air was off the reservoir, carrying the sound of water-birds and distant motorboats; how good it feels to ride a clever and intrepid horse.

Bernie asked me the other day (as we were sitting out under the delicious shade of the eucalyptus tree on the front lawn) if I hadn't wanted to be rich and famous when I was a kid. My honest answer was that I hadn't. By the time I was eight, I'd already had it up to the eyebrows with childhood snobbery ("My daddy makes more money than yours does!") and anyway, if I was rich, I wouldn't be spending so many hours playing in the creek ("crick") or around the town's landfill, which was across the street from our house, and I wouldn't have given those adventures up for the world.

What I did want when I was older/grown-up was to have a horse and to ride as long as I could as often as I could.

And here I am, riding my little horse into the lake, splashing and getting my shoes and pants and chaps wet, playing with good friends who are almost always up for a ride.

I've had a great life, thanks to Bernie, who never minded that I didn't want to be rich and famous, or powerful and privileged. The other thing I wanted in my life came to me when I was about sixteen, and was a junior counselor at a 4-H camp. I was in charge of a cabin of nine-year-old girls and helped with all the youngsters with songs and crafts and hikes. A very sweet little boy decided I was his favorite counselor, and I fell in love with taking care of him. From then on, what I wanted to be was a wife and mother. A home-maker. I've had the delight of doing that with Bernie, and though it sounds a bit unreal, I savor ironing clothes, and folding laundry, and love love love being able to sit under the shady tree in the front yard with my husband and watch the world go about its business while I rejoice in mine.

I'm riding that horse into the lake again tomorrow, too!

P.S. Photo by Aggie Smith, taken from aboard her beautiful mare, Sis.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

One Big Container Tomato

I have two Bush Goliath plants in a half-barrel in the back yard. They set a bunch of tomatoes in short order; last year the one Bush Goliath was the only plant to really produce many tomatoes at all, which is why I planted them again this year.

This monster, as you can see from the scales, weighs 11 ounces. Not all the tomatoes from that planter are that big, but a number of them have been. Big Red here is from a July 1st picking.

Yesterday morning, to add to excess, I picked tomatoes and finished up with a basket weighing over 14 pounds.

14 pounds of tomatoes can just about give you the hives just by looking at them. Can you say, "Get out the canner, quick!"

Thursday, July 11, 2013


There's the corn field! The tall ones on the left are corn specially bred for container gardening, from Burpee Seeds, called "On Deck." I was going to plant the right side with the same variety two weeks after the initial planting, but then I lost the packet of seeds somewhere in the house, so I just filled in with some random sweet corn variety. Even if I don't get corn from the plants, they are so pretty.

The onions are doing great. On the left are some planted shallowly, for slicing onions; on the right are onion sets planted more deeply, for scallions. We've eaten a few of them, and they are sweet and delicious.

And then there are the tomatoes.

These are Early Girl, another Burpee variety. I planted three of them in containers in the front yard, and they are breaking their green ties with the weight of their fruit. And they are early, to be sure. Within a week of their planting, they had all set fruit; I ate the first ripe one the last week of May.

I think that if I could be heartless and calculating, I'd thin the little green tomatoes so that the remaining ones would get bigger, but a 2 1/2 inch tangy-sweet tomato is just the right size for a snack, so I don't. I just tie more green tape around them to keep them from falling to the ground.

So far my ploy has worked and ants have plundered none of them.

And then there are Bernie's Romas, which are perfect for salsas and sauces, being meaty little beasties.

The Roma tomatoes just have a cage around them; they are fairly polite as tomatoes go, and don't require a lot of leash training, although as you can see, some green tape has been employed to keep those heavily-laden vines up out of the ants.

Bernie should have enough salsa to keep him in nachos until Thanksgiving.

Now these maniacs are my Marglobes. They tend to be a late-season crop, but they've gone a bit mad this year. That fence is six feet high, and the Marglobes seem determined to climb over it. Tomorrow I'm going to go in with nails and green tape and corral them so that they don't fall over and strangle the orange tree that is out of sight on the right.

Marglobes are an "heirloom" variety, thin-skinned and not too prolific. I like their taste, and their habit. They're almost secretive about their fruit, keeping it covered by leaves. Then you see a twinkle of red, and tunneling through the foliage, come upon big, beautiful orbs of juicy goodness.

I noted the first Marglobe tomato blushing pink this morning. With the temps in the 90s during the day, and no lower than 60 at night, it should be ripe by Saturday.

Alex's eggplant garden has never looked better.

Except for one point, the fluffy bloom-laden plant has not set any eggplants yet. Last year, the plants looked ratty and bug-eaten, but produced loads of black shiny yuckiness.

I'm not fond of eggplant like Alex is ... but Bernie learned how to make a killer eggplant parmesan, and so we're all waiting ... I'm ready to take a paintbrush to those blossoms and see if I can speed pollination along.

And finally, for this tour, we have the harvest of thumblike carrots. They're supposed to be short and fat like that. Their flavor is scrumptious, and they kept well in the soil until this week.

While we snack on these (should take us right up to NFL pre-season),  I'll try to get Alex to remember the variety and plant some more in September. I was dubious about container carrots until I tasted one.

Tomorrow's morning task: pick a basketful of tomatoes, and get some onions ready for a salad for lunch.

Do stop by if you can take some tomatoes off our hands -- I haven't even begun to talk about the Goliath tomatoes out back.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Light and Shadow

In the early morning hours of June, my Japanese maple reproduces itself in shadows on the back of the house, a dark replica.

The charcoal-colored stars move and dance in the morning breeze that blows in from the Bay Area, but you can't touch them; it's only a trick of the light, only real to the eye. The actual tree is as high as the roof, with red leaves in the spring turning green as summer approaches. We watch carefully to see the first tiny red buds in February, lament the scorched edges of the leaves during July's inevitable 110 degree heat wave, stroke the graceful branches when we walk past it on the pool deck.

Nearly three years after my mother's death from Alzheimer's, I'm still working on coming to grips with what the disease did to her. Nothing about Alzheimer's is fair; plaques of a protein begin cutting off brain function, nerve by nerve: memories go, and recognition, and body function. As the nerves are cut off, they die of starvation. The victim is tied into an ever-decreasing circle, populated by ghosts and strangers. What are they saying? Why have they come for me? Is it any wonder that Alzheimer's patients are so aggressive, so angry, so determined to fight? All that's left is that fight or flight response, and there's nowhere left to run.

My God, my mother got so mean when the disease began to take her. She said things that hurt me so badly that I'd cry afterwards -- not even things about me, but just hearing such viciousness coming from her now-husky voice was like a serrated dagger slashing at the figure I'd known and admired most of my life.

I look at the shadows on the wall, the outline of the Japanese maple given a manner of shape by the absence of light. That was what my mother became: not a reality but an illusion. And illusion is not what I should remember. The illusion changes and disappears within an hour; Alzheimer's tormented us for years, but in the end, Alzheimer's need not last. For Mom, it's gone and done, and it can never touch her again. She doesn't need to be a shadow in my mind.

She grew that Japanese maple from seed, for me. The tree is a reminder for Alex of her grandmother's prowess at gardening, and a tangible connection with a woman who was brave and bold. Her daughter, Lillian, has never known life without that tree being there. Four generations of our lineage have touched it.

I want to see the tree first, not the shadows. The living, not the illusion. The creature, not the absence of light. And just as the shadows of the Japanese maple are beautiful in their darkness, maybe someday I'll see the precious glimpse of human frailty in my mother's death.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Adventure Day!

I had Bernie walk ahead a ways, so that a viewer could get a nice representation of the degree of slope on this hill, as well as the width of the trail.

That would be VERY steep, and NOT VERY wide.

We had set off this morning after I exercised the horse and cleaned the paddock, with the intention of scoping out Del Valle Regional Park outside of Livermore, which purports to have equestrian trails, then heading deeper into the Bay Area to look at a park and trail in Fremont.

We found the day-use equestrian area and the nearby trail, and since it didn't appear to be busy, we decided to walk a ways on the trail. I'm so glad we did. Now, if some misguided lackwit suggests we ride Del Valle, I can informedly tell them to go to hell.

The trail was not too steep, at least as far as we went, but the hillside on which the trail ran was. I'm talking damn-near-riding-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff steep. This picture is along one of the less steep dropoffs.

Now sometime around middle age, I lost my head for heights. Above six feet off the ground, the head falls off and bounces away. This has only grown worse as the years have rolled by. And on this trail, glancing down that slope was giving me a powerful case of vertigo, making me feel like I was gravitationally drawn to fall over. Sweating and shaking, my legs trembling, I kept my eyes on the path and Bernie's legs ahead of me. Not a pleasant walk.

I kept thinking of riding along that path: what if you meet another horse going the opposite way? What if there's a big old snake on the trail -- turning even a small horse on some parts of the track could be dangerous. And what if a jackrabbit or quail explodes out of the brush on the up-side of the path? Could you guarantee your horse would not spook off the edge?

With my eyes averted from the slope, I could see some other things lacking on the dirt: horse dung and hoofprints. Yes, there were some old dried-up meadow muffins, but the droppings were few and far between, and no semi-circular digs from recent hoofprints.

We checked out the other side of the lake, and saw some horse trails along the road, with access up into pasture land; maybe in winter it would be an interesting ride through green grasses, but the signs we saw that warned about ticks and rattlesnakes and mountain lions rather put me off.

Yes, mountain lions.

No, not riding there.

I was done for the day. Fremont Adventure Day will have to wait.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Challenge!

Not one for letting me alone, Lydia Manx gave me a poke and suggested that we write 10,000 words over Memorial Day Weekend.

She didn't wait for my answer, because she knew what it would be and how I would phrase it -- so she quickly amended it to a picture being worth a thousand words, thus a 10-picture challenge.

I could do that.

The pomegranate tree got a photoshoot, with  guest appearances by a nasturtium and an artichoke.

The result of the challenge can be seen at Palmprint Gallery.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


The Trail Boss was supposed to be an experienced rider, and I don't doubt that she is. She was also supposed to know the trail.

Well, she didn't.

A small section of the trail road was submerged at Camanche South Shore, and she led us up to the water.

"How deep is it?" someone called from behind.

"Oh, maybe up to the horse's girth," she answered over her shoulder. Dink was right on her horse's tail, and he was definitely in to his girth.

At that point, all hell broke loose with a big palomino horse plunging forward on our left, leaping and violently trying to run through water that was over his shoulder. He'd gone off the gravel road and into a drop-off, and as he crashed, he threw his rider over his right shoulder into the water. But before she went off, he'd managed, in his bucking, to knock his head into hers.

I know I'm going to have nightmares about this one.

When someone else is leading a trail ride, you're supposed to trust them, rely on them. A trail boss is supposed to know the way, and keep the riders in line -- not really being bossy with them, per se, but making sure they know what it is that they should be doing: Don't leave the trail, you might run onto a rattlesnake; don't dismount and sit in the grass, Lyme disease from ticks is a danger; don't run your horse over pastureland, ground squirrels are everywhere and your horse could break a leg in a burrow.

Time went into a dream-like molasses as the bucked-off rider lay in the water, floating and moaning. Her horse splashed back to the bank we'd left and headed for the trail back. The Trail Boss sat stunned on her horse, then ordered us all back to the side. After we were all back, she got off her horse and waded into the water up to her knees and called to the victim, "Are you all right?"

In the meantime, the victim of the crash had managed to come around enough to half-lean, half-sit up, but was still moaning incoherently. Trail Boss called to her, coaxing her to come back across the water.

And this is where I started to be freaked out: why didn't she wade over and pull that woman out of the water?

I still have no idea why she didn't.

I still have no idea why I didn't jump down from my horse, shove that stupid cow out of the way, and pull my trail-mate out of the water myself. I just don't know. For twenty years, when there's a trail boss calling the shots, you obey the trail boss. I was frozen by convention.

Thank God the crash victim didn't inhale a lungful of water. Indeed, she was able to walk beside her horse back to the trailhead, not staggering at all, but plainly out of her mind, asking every twenty seconds or so, "Why am I wet?" and "What happened?" and "Why do I have water in my boots?"

Her jaw hurt a lot where the horse's head had connected with a haymaker, and she has chipped teeth, at least one of them loose. But she ambled back, able to lead her horse (or lean on him) for the partial mile we'd been riding.

She was too dippy to put back on that POS dog-food candidate, or even on any of the other horses -- if she passed out, a fall from even a gentle horse would be worse than slumping in her tracks. Back at the trail-head, we got her into a dry top at least, and into a folding chair ...

Why didn't her companion load up and take her to a doctor? Her companion the Trail Boss is a veterinarian, shouldn't she at least know some emergency protocol?

Looking back, we should have questioned the Trail Boss: How deep is that water? Ride over and then come back and get the rest.

Looking back, why didn't the Trail Boss use her cell phone and call the rangers at the park gate to tell them there had been a wreck? I know cell phones are iffy up there in the foothills, but she could have tried ...

I feel guilty that I didn't take charge, that I didn't do the things I would automatically do if I was leading a ride.

And again, thank God, at this present time, I've had a message that the crash victim is okay, still feeling a headache, but is okay.

I swear that I would shoot that horse and cut him up by hand for coyote feed, and I really don't want Miz Today's Trail Boss to lead me anywhere in the future.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Pardee, the Four-Hour Ride

The lady on the paint horse in the distance is Janine, who served as our guide when we rode the Coast to Crest Trail at Pardee Reservoir yesterday.

Pardee is off to the left and a hundred and some feet abruptly down from that track, which is why Janine rode on ahead and only stopped when she was by that tree ahead of her and she could no longer see the steepness of the drop.

At this point in the ride, we were two hours in, and still hadn't reached a spot where we could stop and eat sandwiches. I was already really tired, which is why I'm kind of slumped there, just glad to be resting.

Near my red shoes, there is a bulging saddlebag, stuffed full of ice-packed sandwiches and a couple oranges. On the other side of the horse, the companion saddlebag held semi-frozen bottles of water, and more water, and some chips and vinaigretted lettuce for on the sandwiches. Not to mention some serving utensils and napkins.

When we reached a shaded place with forage for the horses and a flat area for us to stand around gobbling food like we were starving, we'd traveled four miles over gentle hills and one slightly steep hairpin descent. Ideally, we'd have had a place to sit down and linger over a delicious gourmet sandwich (Bernie had baked the rolls from scratch that morning.) But it was not to be. We were too tired, and wanted only to refresh ourselves and get back, knowing we had to retrace the trail all the way home.

Also, the hills around Pardee being prime cattle-grazing land, the dried-up cow patty I stepped on turned out to be only dry about 1/4 inch in, and thus while I ate my sandwich and chips, I was dragging my lovely red sneaker through the grass, keeping moving to avoid the worst of the flies, which were truly grateful to me for breaking through that tough cowpie crust.

Dink was as good as gold all the way, except when we were going uphill, at which times he forgot he's a 23-year-old horse and decided he was Pegasus. I fought him on the way out, but on the way back, was just too tired. I gave in and let him trot, figuring he'd tire himself out. (He never did, which I guess is good, as it shows that he's mended after his very rough winter.)

There were gorgeous late wildflowers up there in the foothills; I recognized monkeyflowers and lupines, but there were many more that I have to research. That I enjoyed immensely. We saw mule deer, and huge wild turkeys. Coolness!

Cathy the Mad Horsewoman took these photos, by the way. This one is me on Dink, pausing on a side cowpath. We'd all just watered our horses and were glad we had only about an hour to go before we got back to the horse staging area. I refused to drop my veil, thinking Cathy would take the hint and NOT take a picture of me.

The veil is worn not out of modesty, but because on one insane outing last summer with Cathy the Mad, we were out longer than we expected to be, and my lips sunburned so badly they blistered. Now I wear a mask when I ride in the sun. Lillian thinks I look like a ninja; Bernie warned me I might be arrested as a potential terrorist. I certainly was a desperado -- desperate to get off that horse and take a cool shower.

Pardee was a great ride, and I would gladly go again ... in the Spring, at the height of wildflowers, or in the Fall, after the first rains. I would not, and will not, make this ride again when it's hot. The forecast for our home was 92 degrees, with a 10 mph breeze. Nice. Up at Pardee, in among the hills, there was no breeze, and I guarantee it was well over 92.

Dink and I are ready for Woodward Reservoir, a lowland ride during which we can actually get in the water and splash.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicken Stuff For the Soul

"Chicken Stuff."  Shall I talk about it at length? No? Too bad, here goes.

Chicken can be canned, pressure cooked, roasted, or braised. However much you like. Chicken can also be turkey, if you are so inclined.

Chicken into bite-sizes.
Add mashed potatoes to the menu at will.
Gravy: Don't use package stuff, it often has corn starch in it. Instead make your own with chicken drippins or start with a basic roux (sp?) of equal parts butter/margarine and flour: two tablespoons each to start, get bigger if you want to make more. Add some chicken broth, and Better Than Bouillon chicken base by half teaspoons until you get the taste you like. If you need to thicken more, mix flour with cold water to make a gluey consistency and add a dribble at a time to hot broth.

The tricky bit is the stuffing. You're going to have to guess-timate how much you will eat of this Stuff. For a regular meal, I use:

1 loaf of cheap bread, torn into bite-sized pieces. (Which freeze well for later use, btw.)

2 - 3 stalks of celery
One yellow onion
2 teaspoons pepper
One teaspoon salt
3 - 4 sticks of margarine (I only use Saffola)

Melt the margarine (I start with two sticks) and add finely-chopped onion and celery. Add more margarine, and simmer until onion is translucent. Add pepper and salt.

Drizzle this mixture over the bread chunks with a slotted spoon, folding it into the bread frequently. When bread is deliciously moist, spread it on a cookie sheet and let it bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until crunchalicious.

The margarine/celery/onion drizzle also freezes well.

Mix chicken with gravy and serve with crunchy stuffing and mashed potatoes.

Now, if you want to make soft stuffing, you do the same mixture for the stuffing, but before you've begun any of the other procedures, you put one chicken liver in a saucepan with about a quart of water and cook the living crap out of it, mash it up, and cook it some more.

The seasoned bread goes into a baking dish, and gets the livery broth ladled over it until it is bread pudding consistency. Bake this beast for a half hour at 350 (you're looking for a slight crust on the top.) orrrrrr microwave on setting 7 for 4 minutes.

Lately I've been making only a handful of the crunchy stuff because the rest of the crew (including Joan) prefer the soft stuff, the Philistines.

My mother would have told the rest of the family to rot before she'd go to the trouble of making soft stuffing; if she cooked chicken livers, it was only because they came with the chicken and became part of the gravy water. (She did not believe in Communism, Tarot Cards, or bouillon.)(Or cooking soft stuffing outside a turkey.) I on the other hand, bought a container of chicken livers for this very purpose, and divvied the little container into seven small freezer bags, for use when I need leverage with my son-in-law, who will agree to almost anything if he gets Chicken Stuff in return.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Ago, Again

When I was a kid, there was Winter, with freezing temperatures appearing in our area in mid-September and continuing until the third week of May or so. (Not constant, of course there were warmish days and thaws and freaky hot spells.) Every house had a basement, and those basements were climate-controlled coolers. Thus you bought your bushel of apples from the orchard owner in September, and stored them in the constant coolness of the cellar. Carrots and cabbage might also have been stored there in that way. And your potatoes from your garden.

Last year, potatoes from my garden got the fridge in the garage to keep cool enough to eat as we used them up. If I buy a big bag of apples, it's likely to be in there, too, beside the carrots.

Mom did keep some carrots in her little refrigerator. We never ate cooked carrots, but if my sister and I whined for snacks, Mom could always say, "Eat a carrot." Carrots were not a staple, but an expedient.

But there was never spinach dip (or fresh spinach, for that matter) or kalamata olives; no hummus or refried beans, or chimichurri, or garlic cloves; no avocados, no sour cream, no Greek yogurt. A 16-oz jar of mayonnaise, yes, but not a big-ass jar of it like we have -- mayo was used only thinly, and mostly in macaroni salad or BLTs. I'm not certain we always had a jar of it open.

All those specialty items needed no room in Mom's little fridge.

And as my mother had no use for corned beef, she would never have bought up five packages of uncooked corned beef as I did a couple weeks ago when it was on sale for $1.88/lb. They took up a lot of room in the garage fridge. Also, from a discount store in Modesto, I buy my sandwich cheese five pounds at a time, which also takes up room. In addition, the bottom shelf of that old GE holds two flats of eggs (that would be about 4 - 5 dozen) -- I buy them cheaply from the poultry farm out the road.

Not only did Mom not cook any extra-big batches of stuff, or keep or make specialty stuff, she also didn't shop per se. She got what we needed (plus her morning ration of sweet stuff, which oddly enough, I don't do) and that was that. I, on the other hand, ran into a "Today's Special" at the store in which they were trying to get rid of legs of lamb for a jaw-dropping $3.99/lb, down from the $7.99 it was a month ago. I brought home two whoppers that about filled the garage fridge before I deboned them and froze the meat.

Today we re-filled the garage GE with a slab of spare-ribs the size of a Radio Flyer wagon, for tomorrow's dinner. And fresh corn on the cob, which was also on sale. Crazy. Mom is probably looking down from her space in the afterlife and yitching, "That's why you're all fat!" But she had no interest in food, really, and even as a spirit, likely has no understanding that those ribs will be lunch for a few days (the corn will all go) or that the brisket I trim off the top of the rib-slab will become pulled pork for sandwiches ... or tamale filling.

My guess is that by tomorrow night, we'll find enough room in the inside refrigerator for what remains of the ribs. And have some room to spare.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Ago

My mother's kitchen, looking west.
Bernie asked me today about what kind of refrigerators our parents had when we were kids.

I know what kind his parents had, because the 72-year-old GE creature is still happily humming away in our garage. My parents had a similarly sized Frigidaire.

Both sets of parents upgraded to newer frost-free models sometime between our clueless pre-teens and unobservant teen years; Bernie's parents kept their GE (thank goodness) while my parents ditched the Frigidaire.

Today's point was that our parents made do with teensy fridges, while we have this 26-cubic-foot Samsung glitzy utter lemon bastard, and the ancient GE I tricked my mother-in-law out of, and a small chest freezer, and all of them are crowded. "How did our parents manage with such little refrigerators?" Bernie asked.

I opened our Samsung Traitor Piece of Shit (which today was not leaking condensation water all over my new tile floor) and had a peek. "Well, there are things that my mother did not store in our little Frigidaire."

Ice water. We have two gallons of purified water in the fridge, because John has kidney problems, and because not only do I loathe the taste of the hard water here in Ripon, but also the clay content constipates me. (I know, TMI. Oh well.) My mother was a great unbeliever in ice water, and considered those neighbors who kept water in their fridges to be ostentatious. We did have two ice trays, but use of them was frowned upon as a kind of weakness.

Looking at my own storage, I can see things in there my mother would never have tolerated. Top shelf: more than one jar of jelly. More than one flavor at a time would have been more than enough. No way would she have had pomegranate, grape, and strawberry. Nor would she have kept a mason jar of dog-quality chicken broth, which I do, for Howie's sake.

Meat drawer, (dropping to the bottom of the fridge) Mom would never have had cotija cheese, mozzarella cheese, pecorino romano cheese, pepperoni, quesadilla cheese, snack string cheese, summer sausage, gorgonzola cheese, a big storage container of grated cheddar cheese, a block of regular sharp cheddar cheese, a chonk of extra-kick-ass-sharp cheddar cheese (for snacking), or salami, or bologna, or packaged sliced turkey. Those things were simply not on the menu. Dad had, at times, a small wedge of cheddar cheese we'd snip at when he was drinking beer and felt munchy, but it was not used in cooking and was not a staple.

Veggie drawer? There was no such thing. Vegetables with our meals consisted of canned corn, or canned peas, or lettuce and onion salad. Maybe pickled beets. In summer, sliced cukes or tomatoes. Mom would not have had a big bag of kohlrabi scored on a store mark-down day, or asparagus, or broccoli, or mushrooms, or spinach. She did not know how to cook them, eat them, and they did not exist for us.

Leftovers? Her meals were made to be eaten on the day of the cooking, and if there were leftovers, they were eaten the next day as the next day's meal. No finicking. No discussion. There was no such thing as having to mark a container with the date to make sure it was eaten before the end of the week. Next day.

In my mother's Frigidaire there were also no:

Tabasco sauce
Steak sauce
Soy sauce
Green tabasco sauce
Blue cheese salad dressing
Ranch salad dressing
Horseradish sauce
Barbecue sauce
Shrimp cocktail sauce
Cottage cheese
Greek yogurt
Worcestershire sauce
Heavy cream

Because we lived in a small town, and the markets were within walking distance, she never stocked milk at more than a quart, butter at more than a pound, eggs at more than a dozen.

"What the hell did you eat?" Bernie asked me.

"Basic meat and potatoes meals, and leftovers."

"That's why she was so skinny when you married her," chimed Alex, butting in on the conversation as she passed through the room.

To be continued ...

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Morning Surprise

So I arise early, refreshed by the vitamin C I took last night to soothe my Springtime-assaulted sinuses. I trundle to the kitchen to put water on for a pint of tea (Red Rose is my current brand.) I carry my big glass of ice water to the studio, open my laptop, and turn it on. I return to the kitchen to complain about the high winds blowing all sorts of twigs and leaves and blossoms and trash around the neighborhood, though I have to admit the swooshing sound in the trees was ultra-soothing to sleep to all night.

Sipping my tea, I return to the studio, call up Firefox, and click on the BBC to see if North Korea has done anything stupid overnight. Margaret Thatcher has died, God rest her soul, and while looking at an article about sleep, I spot a visitor appearing from the black border of my screen, rapidly climbing into clear view.

Yes. I levitate upwards and backwards.

To my credit, I do not scream (you learn not to be loud if babies are quietly sleeping in the house) nor do I spill my tea (you learn to abandon beverages when threatened.) And I did know where to find my camera -- on my worktable, how clever of me to leave it there instead of putting it away.

Jumping spiders startle, but do not scare me. I admire their predation, and commend them for eating annoying insects when I have conversations with them. This jumping spider (after a bit of internet research) was identified as a Daring Jumping Spider, a juvenile at that.

I get a paper towel and shoo young Daring onto it, carrying her (him?) out to the woodstack, where numerous tasty bugs abound.

And vow that I will turn on the light over my worktable before I put fingers to keyboard from now on.

Cowbird Murmuration

Are they dancing in the sunset before roosting in our tree? Or is it "Evening Prayer?"

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Tomato Time!


Bush Goliath tomato plants!
I had to search for these little bruisers. Last year I found them at Walmart, but this year, I went to Ace Hardware, Lowe's, Walmart, Savemart, and finally found some at Home Depot. Bush Goliath is a compact tomato plant, not above three feet tall, and last year, my one plant produced more tomatoes than all the other plants combined. Indeed, we ate the last tomato from it in October. In the 2012 growing season, I made the Bush Goliath share the planter with Early Girl, but this year, I planted its twin in with it. I gave them both plenty of pelleted fertilizer to start them off, and 1/3 cup epsom salts mixed in the soil around them.

Bernie planted his peppers -- Italian sweet peppers in the round pot, and in back, in a nuclear-proof chimney flue, the notorious jalapeno. Last year, in this same spot, he grew more peppers than he knew what to do with. That's rosemary in front of the pot, by the way.

Still awaiting their permanent home, we have three Early Girls and one buffed Brandywine tomato. I've never grown Brandywine before, so it will be something of an experiment. I understand that the vines grow HUGE, which is something I like in a tomato. I see these tomatoes making a kind of hedge in the front yard, and perhaps a philosophical statement as well.

And there are the little darlings, Sweet Success cucumbers. I'll put a large tomato cage in with them for them to climb on. Last year my cucumber plants didn't do well at all; this year I'm hoping for a better result.

Along with the Early Girls and the Brandywine, I have three Marglobes (my go-to variety for the past couple years) and two Romas that need to go into the ground. And corn. And potatoes. And onions. I think Alex and John will plant their eggplants and artichokes this weekend. And amazingly enough, it's not even Orphan Tomato Rescue Season yet! I have so much to look forward to ...

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

O Editor, Where Art Thou?

Well, on the floor.

Yes, literally on the floor for most of the past month. You see, I had this flash of artistic vision as to what my kitchen ought to look like ... and then, what the floor ought to be. I wished for natural slate, but after running a thumbnail across a sample in the tile store, realized that two big dogs would leave toenail scrapes everywhere that would ruin the look. The solution: porcelain tile with a slate look ... and when nearly three years had elapsed, we had the cash to make it happen, more or less.

I have no idea what made me think that I could lay tile in any accurate or appropriate manner. Or what made me think that it would be easy. All I can imagine is that angels were whispering things to me in my subconscious, and then laughing themselves senseless afterwards.

Lowe's had a nice tile called "Castlestone Harvest" that I fixated on, and off we went at the beginning of March, me thinking we could tile the kitchen/family room in a week. I knew from talking to a slate tile salesman that we'd need to lay out the pattern before we ever mixed a bit of adhesive, and we did, at least the first bit.

We began with the white marble hearth. Multiple persons tried to convince me to tear it out and have a cohesive tile not only on the hearth but on the fireplace itself, but I held to my black/white-and earthtones design. From that hearth tile, we ran a laser line to the front of the house, finding that there was a line to the front door entry tiles, off by half an inch due to sloppy chalklines made by the original builders, who were paid cheaply by the hour, and did not care about their work.

We began from the back room's focal point, the hearth, and put in a border of itsy-bitsy tiles -- and built out from there, adhering to our laser line to keep things straight.

Now here's the thing: if you want your tiling done right, and in a timely manner, hire a professional crew. Yes, it's damned expensive, but unless you are an artistic-vision control freak, you really want to spare yourself the physical agony of tiling.

It hurts.

Even with knee-pads, your knees and ankles will kill you. Your back will scream with the effort of bending, and your elbows from the lifting of heavy tiles. Your hands and wrists will swell from the effort of placing and pressing and leaning and prying up -- tiles are heavy, as compared to plates and pots from dinner or shovels and rakes from cleaning horsey paddocks. Indeed, nothing I have ever done has ever compared to the effort involved in tiling.

Truly, it was a learning experience.

Things I learned:
  • Yes, Virginia, you DO have to remove the baseboards. You'll be thankful you did, later.
  • Buying tile from "big box" stores will get you unevenly-sized tiles. That can be okay if you know it in advance and have a tile saw to trim off that aberrant 1/8" on the one side.
  • If you're going to do it yourself, buy a decent tile saw. Expect to spend $250 at least.
  • And a laser line to make your chosen reference points perfect. No, seriously. Use the tools of the present age.
  • Open up your boxes of tile two or three at a time. One of our boxes was apparently a "return" -- the returners had picked out of the box all the bright and interesting colors and replaced them with grays from other boxes.
  • After grouting, and smoothing the grout with a sponge, let the thing dry, and then wipe off the haze with a dry old towel. It will save you a bazillion arm swipes with the wet sponge as you clean up the grout haze. You still need the wet sponge step, but it is greatly minimized.
  • YouTube is priceless. Watch a hundred how-to's.

Now here's the thing: it's easier to hire someone to lay the tile, if a lot more expensive. But the fact is, every single one of those tiles is set by me for color contrast, direction of "grain," visual impact, and focal points. I knew where I wanted the eye to land and be led. Opening up several boxes of tiles and finding four or five outstanding colors and squeaking "Ooh! I know exactly where this tile should go!" is something an installer would never be able to replicate.

The result was simply stunning. The cabinets (a bit weathered after 20 years but I wanted to keep them like that) and the family room sofa and chair, the stained white marble hearth, and the tables absolutely glow on the slatey floor. We have an area rug to use, but can't bear to do so yet -- the tile is so lovely.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a day when there aren't baby toys scattered everywhere, and I'll post a pic or two of the rooms. One special one that picks up my Audubon bird prints that hang on the wall ... not planning it in advance, the colors of the tiles echo the predominate colors and tones of the prints.


Friday, March 01, 2013

The Next Ride

Yes. We went to Camanche Reservoir the next day, and the weather was pretty much perfect, in the high sixties with a bit of breeze: that means we were warm and needed no coats in the sun, and didn't sweat too much due to the breeze.

The China Gulch Trail at Camanche winds through cattle pasturage, and the bridle path is wide enough for three horses to go side by side (mostly). That's the good news, along with the beautiful views.

The bad news is that the trail is all gravel and stones, which the horses do not care for underfoot, and all uphill and downhill, which the horses and their aging riders did not especially care for. The stones and gravel bruise the horses' feet at times, in spite of horseshoes, and make the footing going downhill a bit tricky. And the up- and down-hill ...

I can't say how Cathy the Mad Horsewoman and Jerry the Alabama Cowboy felt while riding. They have heavy Western saddles, which may provide them with a bit more support than I have with my lightweight English Wintec -- I definitely have to ride with my legs engaged to maintain balance side to side and back to front. Perhaps I should ask them about that next time. On my part, by the time we were done, my flabby old legs were shaking and screaming at the exertion.

(Now that may sound horrible, but for a life-long horsey junkie like me, it is exactly what your legs long for, and a feeling that fills one's heart with happy-cooties, even while causing one to drag, zombie-like, to set out the picnic lunch afterward.)

The scenery was gorgeous, with weathered stone bluffs in the distance, and the lake glinting improbably blue in the distance (the photos don't do it justice), and the joy of watching our horses' expressions -- it was a wonderful ride. But for me, the best part of the strenuous day was arguing with Dink at every hill, when he wanted to charge ahead in a forging trot, and feeling him eager to keep going on and on to see what else there was to see.

The last time we were at Camanche, I was afraid he was dying.  But he did great this time; in fact he was a bit of an ass, but that's Duquesne all the way. He remembered the gate into the park, and positioned himself flawlessly for me to open it from his back. Only after the gate was closed and his mental "work" was done did he begin prancing and puffing to get on with the ride.

We saw a million woodpeckers, heard meadowlarks, watched buzzards and hawks sail through the sky; three mule deer spooked when they heard us come over a ridge, and big grazing cattle watched us warily. We saw a calf chase a gaggle of geese just for fun.

It's bedtime now, and I am still tired from that ride, my legs and arms still threatening to go on strike or something, even with 24+ hours of rest.

Love it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Childhood Dream

Well, if you were riding with me, and decided to take a picture during the ride, naturally you'd get my back and Dink's roany rear end.

Dink's had a rough winter, but is on the mend, or at least as much of a mend as a horse who will be 23 this year can have. He's put on some weight, and regained his need to be The Horse, out in front, leading everyone else.

Eddie, on the right, carrying Cathy the Mad Horsewoman, has learned from walking beside Dink that it's better to lag a little behind; when he gets up too close to the side of Dink, Dink will occasionally flatten his ears at Eddie, which is Horse language for "Push your luck and I will knock the shit right out of you." Eddie is too smart to push his luck.

We rode Woodward Reservoir yesterday, reveling in the lack of campers and dog trainers and goose hunters. The dirt roads are getting grassy with winter, the hills green with new grass. The reservoir itself has been half-drained, exposing sandy beaches. The resultant green land, clean yellow beaches, and brilliantly blue water makes me think of an exotic beach location, maybe a lush island, maybe the Riviera. Maybe Madagascar.

We rode on the roads on the way out, but on the way back, I led the way onto the exposed sandy expanses. At times it was like riding through a desert, with the soil/sand cracked and dried by the sun; but then, as we neared our camp, it was like riding on the beach, with the sandstone and sand challenging our horses, the wind blasting us and raising whitecaps on the remnants of the lake.


After being raked, hoed, and pounded by the wind, sitting down to eat our sandwiches and chips and drinks felt like true luxury, even though the wind was so cold we couldn't take our coats off, and had to sit on saddle blankets at the cement picnic table to keep from freezing our butts off.

Being The Chuck Wagon as well as being the Woman on the Horse that Has To Be Out in Front, I made the grub. Sandwiches were semi-subs of seasoned turkey, bologna, salami, and cheese, or chicken with stuffing-seasoned mayonnaise. There were potato chips, and oranges, and bottled water or diet soda. (I brought wine for myself, a cheap but tasty pinot grigio decanted into an empty plastic water bottle. Classy, no?)

That's Dink on the left, tied to the trailer behind Cathy the Mad's glitzy new truck, and Eddie on the right, both of them watching us eat sandwiches with envy. Don't pity them -- we let them graze on the reservoir's land's rich green grass before we ever sat down.

If I had seen this adventure when I was seven, I would have said, "Yes! That's what I want to do when I grow up! I could never have enough of that!" I tried to remember that feeling as I oozed up the home sidewalk afterward, every muscle feeling like worn-out jelly.

We had a wonderful ride, and I hope the horses are rested because tomorrow, Thursday, we're riding out again at Camanche Reservoir.

Our friend Nikki took these pictures; I'm hoping tomorrow that I can take a few of my own.