Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dodging a Bullet

This past week, I had to run clothes through the dryer twice in order to get them to dry.

And then even twice wasn't doing it.

And then, the dryer began to smell funny during its cycle.

Great, I thought, I just fork out $$ for a futon to sleep on, and now the dryer decides to die. I figured it was laundromat time again for a while, but Bernie -- oh, how fortunately -- has better sense than I. He pulled the dryer away from the wall, and found some wet spots on the linoleum, and some damp lint in the vent.

A man of merit, he collected his trusty plumbing snake and ran it up the vent. Gobs of wet lint fell out, much to my utter disgust. We cleaned that up, and then he turned to the dryer itself. Having learned (from an internet source) how to tear the front of the dryer off, he proceeded to do so, and discovered about a fluffy peck of lint -- maybe more -- packed inside the dryer, blocking the fan.

Once that was out, the air flow in the dryer was much better, but our internet search on how to clean dryer vents uncovered an astonishing fact: a clogged dryer vent can get your home burned down around your ears.

Hell, I didn't know about that. Every other place we've lived had a dryer vent that led right outside the wall of the laundry room, not up through a volume-ceiling structure through attic and roof. Bernie found this link to a dryer-vent cleaner, and we decided to buy one the very next day.

Sure am glad we did. Look at this junk that came out of the vent above where the plumbing snake would go. It was wet, and DENSE!!!

What if that junk dried out in the summer, and the clogs made the dryer overheat? It would be like a bomb. Or what if that mass collected all the moisture from the laundry, clogged the vent completely, and made the dryer burn itself out? A decent dryer costs a lot more than the Gardus cleaning set -- the 10-piece set cost about $30, and the extension kit (for our high roof peak) about $18 -- and now our dryer vent is spiffily clean.

The kit, which you power with an electric drill, was hugely easy to use, and the whole job took about 30 minutes. Bernie finished it up by blowing the remaining dust out of the vent with our leaf blower. (The kit comes with an adaptor for leaf blower and vent for just that reason.) I stood outside and watched white linty dust FLY out of the roof vent, and then the air ran clear.

God, I'm glad we discovered this before we had a fire. Vent cleaning will commence on a yearly basis ... we won't let another 20 years go by before it's done again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fun Is Hard Work

Today began with a 7am wake-up. I really didn't want to get up that early, but I had a trail-ride scheduled, and that meant I had 2 hours to come up with a cover image for the Piker Press.

And to eat breakfast, get dressed, and make lunch for three riders.

I had a couple reference photos to work from, and chose to use pastels on black paper. Six colors only. The result was simplistic but worked. I photographed it, loaded it to my computer, and darkened the background, correcting the glare of the light on the paper.

I like the pants the best, and the shoes weren't too bad.

Then it was off to the kitchen to make sandwiches on french rolls (cheese, salami, bologna, turkey) and vinaigretted lettuce to add later; I packed chips and oranges and soft drinks into my cooler-on-wheels, and off I went for the ride.

Which was exotically beautiful, because Woodward Reservoir has been partially drained, exposing yards and yards of sandy beach. The grasses are green (green is our winter color) but the weeds were brown, and beyond the golden beach, the water was bright blue, and crested with little whitecaps on the waves. Sunshine kept us warm enough.

Whitecaps? On a reservoir?

Yezzz, the wind was up, about 15 mph, stirring the water. And right out of the north, so we needed the sun to keep us warm enough.

When we had our sandwiches after the ride, I watched the waves on the reservoir, just drinking in the gold and blue and green, glad to be done with the saddle, looking forward to a hot shower at home. Dink, after a week of good food, had been a handful -- he can't wait to get out on a new trail, and always starts out like he's on fire. That's good, that meant he's improving, health-wise, but wow, it also meant I had to ride like I knew what I was doing, not slog along like a sack in the saddle.

Good sketch, good ride, good day.

More Art Bits

One of the stories in the Piker Press the other week was "Me" by Michael Price.

The story is about a very self-absorbed young man, and I remembered I had a pic of a narcissus stowed away in my Flickr account.

But while a narcissus may symbolize self-absorption, garage siding, the front bumper of a Vibe, and the neighbor's tree do not.

In Photoshop, I copied the leaves on the bottom left, and pasted them on other parts of the photo. Then I 'selected' only the narcissus flower itself and put it on top. A 'paint daubs' filter gave me the texture I was looking for, and thus I ended up with an illustration that pleased me greatly.
I do believe I also used Edit-->Transform-->Scale before I did the 'paint daubs' treatment.

And added a border by pasting the color pic onto a new field of black, merging the layers, and cropping off all but a medium frame of black.

This goes to show that we should take pics of everything in case you ever need a pic of anything.

Maybe someday I'll even have a use for my photo series "Things on the Back of Trucks."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Old Horse

My horse, Dink, is 23 years old this year. That's old.

We got him when he was two; a friend of ours had been called out to deal with him -- a breeder of Appaloosa cutting horses said to our friend, "If you can get him out of that paddock and off my property, you can have him -- just don't tell anyone he came from here."

Now why would anyone give up a purebred Appaloosa? Why, because he was smallish, and meaner than pig-tracks. Our friend thought he'd use the colt to breed his mares, and get some quality bloodlines into their offspring, but his wife nixed the idea when she saw the colt, saying, "Not with that little dink, you won't."

In turn, our friend offered Alex the colt, saying if she would get him cut, (castrated) she could have him.

And she did. With a nod to our friend's wife, we called him Little Dink informally, but named him Lord Duquesne. Names matter, they really do. We gave him dignity, and bravery, naming him after an 18th Century fort in Pennsylvania. (And maybe a little double-entendre for fun, as there was a beer called Duquesne back in the day, also.)

Alex gentled that mean colt with skill and intuition; he never bucked, accepting a saddle and rider with willingness and intelligence. We've rarely had to explain anything to Dink twice. Alex finished growing up and got married, and had no time for riding, what with a full-time job and all sorts of adventures that are her province for the telling, and Dink came to me. I did some finessing with rein and heel and leg cues; he brought to the partnership a willingness to carry me and respect for my leadership.

Twenty-one years with this horse.

Since this past summer, he's lost seven inches of girth -- that's the measurement around his chest just behind his legs. I've been ranting about it to the ranch manager since last July, but she kept saying, "Oh, you've been riding more, or maybe it's worms ..."

Last week I went to the pasture to get Dink for a trail ride. His pasture-mate, "Larry" was standing over their hay, and Dink was having to pick for bits underneath the much bigger (and fatter) horse. On the trail ride, up at Lake Camanche, at one point, Dink just ... stopped. Dink doesn't stop. Dink is the intrepid one who will keep on going eagerly into new places -- sometimes too eagerly. He just doesn't stop and stand, resting, unwilling to go forward.

After the ride, I grew a spine, and told the ranch owner I wanted Dink out of pasture and in a paddock until I could see he was all right. He agreed, as there were a couple paddocks open. I bunged Dink into one and gave him some "senior feed."

The next day I went to see him around noon. The ranchers had brought "Larry" up out of pasture into the next paddock (Larry screams and screams if Dink isn't nearby) and I saw that Larry had eaten all his hay -- but Dink was still grazing at his. Duuhhhhhh. Dink is old and not eating fast, and Larry had been chowing down most of their feed.

It's not been a full week yet, but Dink is already looking better. I rode him on an easy trail ride, and in the arena a few days later, and his energy level is already much improved. The ranch manager has agreed with me that Dink should be given extra rations until he fattens up again.

Maybe he will, and maybe he won't. I hope he does, but he is, as I said, 23 years old, which is quite a venerable age for a horse.

I love seeing his head lift quickly, with ears pricked, when he hears me whistle for him and shout, "Duquesne!"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Catching up on Art Stuff

I'm still loving up the 15-minute art project idea. It worked really well for gift tags at Christmas time.

I started with some VERY cheap brown paper we scored at Lowe's, paper that is meant to be used as masking paper for painters to mask off windows and stuff they don't want to spatter paint on.

The paper -- in huge rolls for about $10 -- had a nice medium tooth to it. I don't know how it will hold up to light and age, but for 15-minute projects and practice pieces it will be fine.

I began by cutting my pieces of paper, no mean feat considering the dampness of the weather and the penchant for the paper to curl like Lillian's hair.

Then I soaked them on my polyurethaned watercolor boards, to stretch the paper and get it to lie flat. There's a slight finish on the masking paper, which I thought (correctly) the water would break down.

Once all four pieces were well and truly yummily wet and flat, I went at them with my cheap watercolor paints, swiping in broad shapes.

I kept the board with the papers flat, not wanting any runs if I could help it.

I'd decided on four seasons, one for each of my housemates, excluding baby Joan, who would only appreciate the art if she could munch on it.

After the initial splats of paint, I had to let each one dry a bit. Then I came back at them with additional pigment, thicker watercolors.

Another drying time had to come, and with it, the realization that the paper had held much more dampness than I'd expected, and most of the pigment had bled out into the brown paper.

The answer? More pigment, of course! I did some thicker blobs of color, and let it dry again.

And dry it did, and began to curl again, so I taped it down with little masking tape doughnuts (tape curled with the sticky side out, making it two-sided) and then had at it with pastels, just a bit here and there, to add texture and definitive lines.

I gave all four a quick spritz of fixative and set them out to dry yet another time.

With the Spring and Autumn ones, I also used an indelible ink pen to help with the trunk lines.

And then, I added a sentiment to each of my beloveds, to be carried on their Christmas gifts.

I photographed each of these against black paper; the angle of the camera gives them that not-quite-square look.

All in all, the project took considerably more than fifteen minutes, but each stage was short, and could be done in little bits in between other pressing daily matters.

I like the brown craft paper as a medium. The tooth is nice, and the color pleasantly neutral. Once our weather moderates, I'd like to cut a bunch more of it into manageable sizes and use it for pastels.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How does fifteen degrees or so lower than normal sound to you in January?

To me it sounds like:

"Layer, layer, layer. Undershirt, long-sleeved shirt, big t-shirt over that ... maybe an XL flannel shirt? And socks. And my insulated boots."


"Only six more weeks and I'll be planting tomato plants outside. Only six more weeks. Only six more weeks..."


"So much for working in the studio until the end of the month."


"Hey, is there ice on the swimming pool???"

Why yes, my dear, there is.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

January 2013

If there is a more cheerful-looking flower than a pansy, I can't think of it.

Orchids can be elaborate, but many come off looking predatory or menacing; roses are luxurious, yet stand-offish. Camellias have their own agendas, and alyssum just runs riot and tramples all over anything, with total disrespect for other flowers' personal space.

But the pansy has a winning smile for everyone, all the time.

January is our bleahhhhhh month; colder than December, the days are frequently socked in by Tule fog -- everything feels chill and damp and dull and your toes hurt.

Pansies are winter color here in the Central Valley, and I appreciate every little smile they bring.