Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oh, Not That Tree!

The dog barked, and the baby woke up from her nap. I'd been sitting by the fire, and heard nothing. But then John called to me, "Did our tree just come down?"

I ran to the garage, and could see from the side door an ominous cloud of new eucalyptus growth -- sideways across the driveway. Going out the side gate (which would be at the far left on this pic) I saw a wall of Downed Tree that went well into our neighbor's front yard.

Now, of course I said, "Shit" when I saw this, but the very next thing I said was "Thank God!" -- because Alex was away at work with her car, and Bernie and Lil had gone out to the ranch to feed the horse ... and so neither car was in the driveway.

I went next door to let the neighbors know I'd have to go through their yard to get out, and we all milled around, looking at the carnage in awe.  The neighbor used her phone to call Steve's Tree Service, and though he was tied up at another job, he promised to be at our house as soon as possible to get us a path to the street. That's what you see in the picture -- taken after he'd cleared the sidewalk and a narrow walkway on our drive.

And now it's gone.

The tree has shaded the front of our house from harsh summer sun for so long, been our respite on summer afternoons, kept us from having to look into the neighbor's yard across the street, been a haven for hundreds of birds who needed a residence at night.

What a wasteland.

Why did it fall? As it turns out, there was a vast amount of rot occurring in the tree at the juncture of its many branches. The heavy rains over the last few weeks prompted A LOT of new growth (such is the nature of the tree) and that, with the rain, proved too much weight to bear.

Just glad it fell when and where it did, instead of on the house or on people or on cars.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Storm of the Decade?

News services have been running around with their hair on fire all week about the biggest rain storm in a decade to hit California.

"It's going to flood! It's going to cause power outages! It's going to make mudslides and pooling water and mushy ground that makes trees fall over in the HIGH WINDS!!!!"

In the winter of 1997-98, the El Nino rains found me on the south side of my house in knee-high rubber boots with a pickaxe, hacking a trench to try to get the water off my back patio. Our pool had been completed in October, and I'd been trying to grow a lawn...but every time I reseeded, the rains would pour down and drown the seedlings in two inches of standing water. The lawn failed, and we eventually gave up on it, but the trench on the south side worked just fine, and we had no water in the house.

Obviously that was more than ten years ago. Let's try seventeen. So this storm, if it panned out, would pretty much be the Storm of Two Decades -- but that doesn't sound so cool. And indeed, in seventeen years, we all forgot just how icky a big rain season can be. I myself was an idiot, and when I needed to dump a bunch of landscape river rock somewhere, I used the trench on the south side of the house. Quite wrongly I thought water would flow through a channel of river rock. Maybe it would for the first rain, but after years of Valley dust and crumbled falling leaves, no, it sure doesn't.

It's easy to forget heavy rains here in the Central Valley. Spring arrives in February, and Summer ends in November. At Thanksgiving you know you're going to be planting tomatoes in ten weeks, and you just hope there's going to be enough rainstorms to allow you to irrigate your lawn and garden between March and November when it doesn't rain.

And so yes, we have flooding, and power outages, and mushy tree-falls. (The mudslides and sinkholes belong to the Bay Area, not the Central Valley.) Yes, we FORGOT how to maintain the drainage needed for a big storm.

With three days to prepare for the storm, I re-dug part of my south side trench, taking eight buckets of soil (laboriously separated from damned landscape river rock) out to the ranch to fill a hole that Dink had dug in his paddock. I thought that would be good enough.

NOT. Two inches of rain in a little over two hours required some new trenching to allow the water to flow out to the street. Hmm, I've got my own little creek -- can I name it? And the drainage solution we used for the new beautiful brick patio was not up to the flooding, but Bernie was very clever and took one of the pumps from the fish ponds and used it like a sump pump to clear the water from the back of the house.

It's been an interesting afternoon, all righty. I paced from back patio to bedroom patio to kitchen window (where I can see my southside trench) to garage entry to front window to make sure the storm drain in front of our house was clear of leaves, repeat, repeat, repeat. We went out to feed Dink his supplemental senior horse food, and the ranch out there west of town is practically afloat.

Water, water, water, as long as it's flowing, we're good. Fortunately the wood stove is keeping us feeling warm and dry, and the power is on so Bernie can make pizza, which is just the thing to keep hopes up on a rainy, rainy day.

Thank you, God, for the rain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November and Nandina

Ah, November.

We needed long sleeves today, the high being a cool 67 degrees. Clouds were moving in by the time we set off on our shopping spree, but we were still glad to have an insulated bag in which to carry meat groceries.

A shopping spree of groceries? Oh, yes.

With our now-limited income, shopping for food has become an interesting puzzle of how to best feed ourselves and preserve our bank account. Fortunately, Modesto is actually closer to us than Manteca, and Modesto has some interesting places for food procurement.

Now it is a fact that we're within walking distance (albeit a stretch) of our city's supermarket. However...

Proximity does not always equal savings.

Our local SaveMart does have tomatoes "on-the-vine" -- but at $2.99/pound. Sprouts Farmers' Market had them at $1.88/pound, and since we had to go there for white American cheese (local SM stopped carrying a tasty brand) we got the superior-tasting-sourced tomatoes for less, and stumbled into a great sale on green bell peppers, too. And cranberries, for less than half the price at our market here in town.

We were in Modesto for a doctor's appointment, so why not use the gas for shopping?

Proximity does not always equal taste.

While our local SM does have some decent meat, I cannot deny that -- Winco in Modesto carries Hormel brand pork, which is so flavorful and tender that you can just about faint from the first bite of it ... and it's cheaper, which, I guess sounds like an irresistible force. We bought pork chops for two dollars less a pound, and ground pork, which Bernie will mix up with spices into a superb sausage blend. Also, Winco carries beef heart at $1.68/pound, and you would not believe how rich and delicious beef heart stew is, especially with Bernie's home-made pasta noodles (which also save us some $$).

Oh, and then there was the Harris Ranch Beef issue. We were introduced to Harris Ranch beef through a sweepstakes by our local SM -- I won $50 in coupons for the stuff -- and we never looked back. By and large, we don't eat any beef unless it is Harris Ranch. We even took a HR Choice New York strip steak and matched it against a USDA Prime NY strip steak -- not even close. The Harris Ranch steak was incredibly better, for $9 less a pound. Sadly, our local SaveMart has stopped carrying HR beef, so we had to go source it elsewhere. Grocery Outlet in Modesto at least carries the ground beef, so we went there for our opportunity for hamburgers later this week.

Proximity does not equal value.

We bought eggs for years at the place out the road, Den Dulk Poultry, because the eggs were super-fresh, super-tasty, and cheap. Six bucks got us five dozen eggs. Then something happened out there, and suddenly, the eggs were ... not so good. Thin shells, watery whites, flabby yolks. Also, customer service went downhill like a speed slalom. Today's shopping included Trader Joe's, where the eggs have been a little more expensive, but a lot better in quality. And when we mentioned that we'd had some cracked eggs in our first dozen from them a couple of weeks ago, Trader Joe's practically threw an extra carton of free eggs into our shopping bag in apology. Wow. Sharp contrast compared to Den Dulk, who, when we once had a couple damaged eggs in a flat, said we'd have had to bring the rotten eggs (have you ever smelled a rotten egg, and if you have, would you ride in the same car with it? No.) back to get replacement eggs. Trader Joe's wins; plus, their lettuce and bagged greens last longer in the fridge than the local supermarket's do. Unspoiled goods means more bang for the buck.

That said, I still love shopping for the everyday stuff at our SaveMart. I really like the employees there, and we were able to pick up sale beef for canning at about $2.50/pound, which is nothing to sneer at. And I like their store brand stuff better than brand name stuff.

So, Nandina, pictured above. Winter color in its berries, and evergreen grace in its foliage. I really like Central California in the fall.

Friday, November 07, 2014

First Week of November

I woke today feeling better than I have in ... wow, maybe eight months or so.  Felt rested, strong, ready for activity.

Can it be because I got a haircut yesterday? I'd been thinking of letting my hair grow over the winter to keep my head warm, but the tangles after getting out of the shower are so painful to me; I tried a conditioner, but hated the perfume smell and it made my back break out in itchy blemishes. This week I had had enough, and printed out my little Man Haircut picture and drove over to the hair salon. Speaking the ritual words, "I'm not a man, and not young, but this is the haircut I want," I proceeded to have what felt like about a pound of hair removed from my head. A severe, short haircut looks good on me, I think, and I liked what I saw in the mirror this morning.

Maybe it looked good because with the short hair, it was very apparent that I've lost weight -- over 15 pounds -- this past year. That could contribute to feeling good, too.

And last night I dreamt well: an exciting and challenging chase and defeat-the-evil-baddies dream, instead of the nightmares of not being able to find Howie.

The other thing that happened yesterday was dog-related; Jack-Jack, an Australian shepherd with a tendency to roam found a way to let himself into our yard. He lives across the street, and since he's something of an escape artist, I've met him on a number of occasions. He's wonderful, with a luscious blue merle coat and such kind eyes, and when Alex got home last evening and exclaimed, "What is Jack-Jack doing in our yard?" I jumped up from my chair and hurried to say hello to him, getting a nice snuggle in return. God alone knows how and why he came into our yard, but I was thrilled to see him. And you know, if his surly and inattentive owners didn't want him, I'd take him in a heartbeat.

Sitting out on our newest patio a couple nights ago, we watched the moon rise, and I got some passable pics of the event. The one above doesn't do justice to the ripe golden glow I saw, but it's a good moon shot for me. Weather since the rain a week ago has been ridiculously clement, and I could complain that it isn't cold and rainy enough, but you know, November clothing that is suited to a t-shirt with a flannel shirt as a light jacket is not something you sneer at. "Shut up and enjoy it." At least that's what I think I heard God say.

Feels good to feel good.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Life With Rain

What a beautiful sight: my brick patio in the rain!

Water has been falling out of the sky for about three hours or so, thanks be to God. Yesterday I cleaned up the south side of the house, gathering mouldering leaves for Alex's compost bin, pulling river rock out of the ground (dumping the excess river rock on that side was one of the dumbest things I've ever done) and then trying to hack a drainage channel into the hard, dry soil.

Back in 1997, I went out there in high boots in the unrelenting rain and used a pickaxe and shovel to make a drainage ditch to the front of the house. But after that winter, the rains weren't bad, and I more or less forgot how poorly the hard clay soil of this area soaks up water. And if you don't maintain your infrastructure, nature fills in with dust and leaves, and homeowners dump rocks into it.

Well, I wasn't having much luck yesterday with the digging, so Alex offered to use her younger muscles to scratch a drainage basin. Chopping at the nearly cementitious earth was hard even for her, so she got some much younger muscles to help -- Mr. Let-Me-At-It Eperis.

Bernie calls him "Eperussell," because it's become fairly obvious that there is a healthy portion of Jack Russell terrier in his blood. Remember how I said he wasn't? Well, I believe I was wrong, and I also believe that the previous owner found out that he wasn't what she was told he was and that's why she ditched him. Anyway, what do terriers do? Right, they DIG.

Ep pitched into the excavation with the vigor of foolish youth and the determination of a race of ratters. It was like a light bulb came on in his brain and he realized that digging crazily was what he was meant to do with his life. Alex merely directed the vector of those flying white paws.

Of course, it is a double-edged sword: the ditch got done (at least as much as we needed for this storm) by puppy paws ... but now that he knows how much fun it is to dig, he's going to need lots of supervision while he's outside.

Especially since we can't keep him from jumping onto the top step in the pool every time he goes out. Oh, yeah, he's a water dog, too. Dirty digging paws in the pool? Heaven help us.

And thank you, God, for this beautiful rain.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Oh, the Sun Still Rises and Sets

We were sitting out on the back patio the other evening, and a sudden trick of the clouds and sun gave us a surprisingly reddish light. All the brickwork glowed, and the pool looked especially deep blue. This photo sort of captures what we saw, but not quite. Not red enough.

In only about three minutes, the light had changed; the sun was dipping behind the houses across the street.

You just have to savor the moments when they occur, because it's possible that oh-so-rich light may never return in this lifetime, and even if it seemed to be similar, the flowers -- that sweet mix of summer vinca, autumn mums, and winter color carnations and pansies -- would be different, the clouds would be different. And whether the beautiful time lasts three minutes, or thirteen years, all you can do is remember it with wonder and appreciation.

The radiant painting faded, back to normal. The sky dimmed to the usual lovely evening light of this season, and we sat out until the patio lights came on and scattered their pattern of shadows across the herringbone brickwork.

The weather service claims, in its long-range forecast, that in about a week or so, nighttime temperatures will be in the 40s, and that rain is possible. The beautiful light won't be there, but times of chill and rain have their purpose, and that's good, too. I have kohlrabi and lettuce and peas and chard and spinach and turnips and beets that all like the season of winter, so I will rejoice in what I have that lives and grows, and hold the memory of amazingly beautiful times in my heart.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

My Dear Howie

I always knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye to him. From our first meeting, he captured my heart and took up residence within it. He left this world on Tuesday, the last day in September.

Howie was a shelter dog, although how anyone could leave such an adorable striped puppy behind, I could never imagine. But their foolishness was my fortune, because Howie -- as I've said many times before -- was the very best dog I've ever had.

He was a wonderful traveler, even when we had to drive for ten hours in a day, always cheerful, completely trustworthy, delighting in McDonald's for a breakfast egg.

And how he could run! We knew from the shelter that his mother was a German shepherd mix, and from his topline it was clear that he had some Queensland heeler in him, but whether the stripes came from a whippet or a greyhound, who knows? In a run with other dogs, there would come a point when Howie would just shift gears, and change from a rollicking mutt to a speed machine, leaving every other dog far behind.

When Alex and John brought Lillian home from the hospital, Howie carefully sniffed her, and then put the top of his head against her newborn feet. And then the cat walked in, and Howie ran him off with great roars of warning. Never was Howie anything but gentle and loving with the girls; as soon as Joan could crawl, Howie always cleaned her face as he passed by. (She loved it.)

He always had his eye on me, to follow me through the house, to keep me company outside. Even on his last day, he took up a station on the loveseat near my rocking chair, and every time I looked up, if he was awake, he was watching me. My dear, dear boy.

What I don't know how to speak of is how much I dreaded him getting older; he did it fairly gracefully, but the first time I saw him fall down, nearly two years ago, my heart started breaking. I knew that I wouldn't have him for very long after that, and was surprised that he made it into his fourteenth year.

In July he had a visit to the vet and she was impressed at how well he was aging, even though she managed to use the phrase "because he is so old" about ten times. But by then, he couldn't go for walks any more -- he could make it about a block up the street and back, and it would wear him out.

Over the past few weeks we saw him decline rapidly, falling down more and more often, sleeping most of the time, choosing to doze on our bed rather than keep us company outside. He began to withdraw, at night putting himself in the farthest location from us in our bedroom.

I miss him so much.

There will be other dogs in my life, I'm sure. I like dogs, and after all, my abuelita Grammy Palos always said that one should have animals around to let you know if there's anything evil about. But I strongly suspect that there will never be another one even close to Howie.

Howie Zimm   2001 - 2014

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

New Light

Glowing like they were lit from within, the corn stalks are nearly as beautiful now as they were when they were growing and green.

That's what I see when I get up in the morning; the light is already so different from high summer and slants in a different direction. Hitting the dried corn stalks, the sun highlights them against the dark shade of the other patio outside the kitchen door.

All too soon, I'll be removing my corn from the containers and planting a winter crop. What shall it be? Snow peas? Spinach? Some beet greens mixed in with some winter-blooming stock or Icelandic poppies? I'd love to grow some nice big purple cabbages, but I'd no sooner get them in than the damned ants will have planted aphids on them.

Got to do something about the ants, I remind myself.

I'm getting itchy for creative work again, which is very good. After the debilitating fall I took earlier this summer, and the sapping effort we had to make for the excellent new brick patio, I'm feeling an urge to make, to do, to try new things, to tap some of the ideas bouncing off the inside of my skull like autumn flies against screens and windowpanes.

Oh, wait. Chard. "Bright Lights" variety. Tastes great in stir-fries and soups, looks beautiful. With white pansies around the outside -- the pansies' petals are edible, too, albeit a bit peppery -- it will look gorgeous, and waking up on winter mornings will be a delight, too.

And just as an aside, I think that blogging once a month is reprehensible. I'll be back soon. Er.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Saying Goodbye Again

We lost Fourmyle today.

He loved his little girls, Lillian and all her friends, and Joan. He loved his puppies, Sebastian and Eperis.

He was kind to visitors.

He defended our yard from other cats.

He was gracious to the end.

Goodbye, Fourmyle.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Clouds in July?

This would not be an unusual morning sky in November, or even all the way into March. But this is July -- the time of year when the sky is so bare and blue that if you see five crows flying along together you stop and stare at them.

But we've been having clouds in the morning, white and gray and leaking raindrops here and there. I wake around six, look out the beautiful new sliding glass door, see clouds in the sky, and think, What the hell, clouds AGAIN?? And then I slither out of bed, pull on a hoodie and long pants and fling myself down in a chair on the new patio and watch clouds chugging slowly across the tops of the trees, visitors from the mysterious southeast.

Yes, southeast ... not the usual/normal west.

And while the clouds make the morning cool and clement, the humidity they bring is not nearly as welcome. Still, if moist clouds will bring early rains, I don't think any of us here in California are going to complain about it. We're all tired of the drought conditions.

Ah, yes, the new patio. It's done, it's gorgeous, and it's changed the way we live in the house. That is to say, we now spend more time living outside the house. Mornings with the clouds, evenings with the shade.

Not a Bad Resort at All

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Haiku Thursday

Last week Cheryl and I were discussing writer's block. Both of us have been kind of silent lately as far as poetry and fiction go; writing has just not been happening. For me, some kind of writing seems to help me relax and rest well at night, so it's not just because of vanity that I want to get words on the screen again, it's about not enjoying nightmares.

What we decided was that a little bit of structure in our days could help unlock those creative brain waves. With alliteration filtering in, we chose One-Page Wednesdays, then Haiku Thursdays, Free Verse Fridays, and Sonnet Saturdays.

The One-Page Wednesday was just a page of rattling thoughts and jittery sentences, so I'm not going to humiliate myself by copying it here. The Haiku Thursday worked out better.

red oleander
blue sky, white sun, eighty-five
summer afternoon


Saturday, June 07, 2014


Last Thursday we took the car in for brake repairs, and after being told it would take a couple hours at least, we decided to walk home, only about 30 - 40 minutes away, a nice exercise.

A block later I tripped and fell on the concrete sidewalk.

You know, if you haven't fallen down since you were a kid, you just somehow forget how to do it without getting hurt. There was no slow-motion, oh-my-God-this-is-going-to-be-bad sense about this fall. It was just WHAM! and I was down, blinded by the pain in my knees.

While Bernie knelt beside me trying to ascertain whether or not I had hit my head (I hadn't) a nice man pulled over to the side of the road and jumped out to offer assistance. I didn't really at that point want assistance, I just wanted to lie there on the hot concrete and wait for everything to be all nice again. But after a minute or two, I knew I had to try to stand, and my kind men took my hands to pull me to my feet. That was when I noticed the pain in my hands. Then it was obvious that I'd done a four-point landing, knees and the heels of my hands.

What I should have done was ask the nice man to give us a ride home, but oddly, that never occurred to me until about a hobbled fifty feet later, when I had to stop in the shade of a tree and wait for the throbbing to stop.

I could have called someone to come get us ... if I had a cell phone, which I don't. And even that wouldn't have worked because I don't use the phone if I can help it, and so have no phone numbers of friends or neighbors memorized -- at least none that live in town.

That was one long mile to get home, gimping along in the 90-degree afternoon heat. Bernie carried my purse, in which fortunately we'd stashed a cold bottle of water. We slowly oozed from shade to shade as we could, and I made it all the way.

What was nightmarish was the sudden realization of how isolated we are. Cars zoomed past us on the busy street, but no one looks at pedestrians and wonders if they want to walk or can walk -- if they didn't want to walk, they'd have a car, wouldn't they? Everybody has a car! On the other side of the sidewalk was a sound wall -- no contact with people there, and since people only walk if they want to walk, there was no place to sit in the shade, not until we made it back into the residential area, where a picnic table in a little park had one corner in the shade. Then on down the streets to our own street, plenty of houses, no one around. Early Thursday afternoon, everybody's at work, or out shopping, or holed up inside their shrouded windows, watching TV in the air conditioning. What a desert I live in!

I was lucky; nothing is broken. The bruising and soreness will fade. But the sense of isolation ... that's still there, in the back of my mind. How many injured or hurting people have I not seen, that I could have helped? I don't know, of course, but I think I'll keep my eyes open more now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Beagle-Jack Russell Terrier... No, He's Not

This is Eperis.

Eperis is the name of a handsome bard in some story, don't ask me more, I don't know. He's not my dog, but he is the new dog in the house.

He's a border collie/Queensland heeler cross, and you can see the border collie in his skulk as he prepares to herd the cat, and the Aussie glint in his eye shouts of dingoes and Australian shepherds.

Ep is definitely going to be an alpha dog; as a pup that makes him a bit of an ass. Fortunately for him, the ears are adorable, and his body is as soft and pliable as a jellyfish. He has incredible all-four-feet-leap upward mobility. If you pet him, he tries to roll over before lying down, and doesn't mind when he hits the floor.

He came to this household at five months old, neutered, vaccinated, and free. "He's never been outside this farmyard," said the previous owner. "I wanted to do a lot with him, but I just haven't had the time."

You take that kind of talk with a grain of salt, because here is an adorable pup -- why kick him to the curb? So far, the reason isn't apparent.

"He loves everybody. He'll never make a watchdog," the previous owner added. Hmm. This dog barks if he hears neighbors talking, or if anyone walks on our sidewalk. I wonder what she thought a watchdog does?

So far, he's as cute as a bug, fun to play with, and bides well with the household.


Howie despises him and pretends he doesn't exist, but that's sensible, since Ep is going to be an alpha, and Howie knows he hasn't got it in himself to fight for Top Dog position. "I don't see you, I don't have to fight you."

There's great old dog wisdom in that.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bernie's Nemesis

This little fellow has been wandering around the kitchen ceiling for days.

I've always had a fondness for jumping spiders; they're feisty and independent, fast and furry. If you poke at them, they'll hop away, but if you're persistent with your pestering, they lose their tempers and will hop at you.

That's what had Bernie worried. When was this spider going to have enough of intruding humans in the house and go on a rampage?

Spider was exploring the kitchen island when I spotted it, just ambling along, checking to see if any slices of home-made pizza had been left out. I got my camera and had an interesting photo-shoot with the close-up focus ... but I couldn't get too close because Spider would get aggressive, throw front legs in the air, and jump on the camera.

It was fairly annoying to the bug, but what an expression when I used the flash:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - DVD Review

We didn't go to see this movie in the theater because we had been to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and so I accidentally ran over every pair of pants that I owned several times with the mower, drove nails into the tires of the car, and stole a backhoe to dig up the ends of the street so that no one could leave home for the duration of the film's exposure at the theater.

Still not good enough. My son-in-law rented it on Netflix, and invited the family to watch it as a group, because he had enjoyed it. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, get a big glass of wine and a bowl of chips, and have a note taped to your wrist not to shout things at the screen -- yes, this was one of those times.

If you loved the first Hobbit movie, you might find room in your heart for this one. If you didn't like the first one, you'll hate this one even worse. For in this one, if there is a fight scene, there will be more beheading and stabbing and chopping than in 300. And if there is one fight scene, there will be so many you will not be able to count them. If there is a weapon of honor being packed by a dwarf, in this movie, there will be ten to fifteen, and even if they lose them -- in battle or incarceration -- they will reappear later with no explanation or diminishing in numbers. And elves will have the hots for elves, the hots for dwarves, and they will all be hot to insist they are not the least bit hot for anything in Middle Earth but being left alone to comb their hair and practice their archery.

As to the story ... if you've read Tolkien's The Hobbit, you'll wonder what the hell this movie is based on. And if you haven't, don't bother trying to make sense of this muddled mash by reading it. Bernie pointed out to me the next day that The Desolation of Smaug was just Hobbit fanfic. You know, I think he's right.

Martin Freeman is still cute as a bug as Bilbo, however, and he must have had a wonderful clause in his contract, to not appear in any completely stupid and disjointed scenes. Him I liked, and I wish that the producers had made a better film for him to star in.

Two thumbs down, as they say.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hail of a Thing

"HAIL!" shouted Lillian, charging through the house to the front door. "IT'S HAILING!!!"

I dropped the meat fork I was messing with and scurried after her. We stepped out onto the front porch to see hail bouncing along the sidewalk to the tune of thunder peals. "Look how big they are!" She cried in high glee. "I'm going to get some!"

We don't often see hail here; we can go years at a time without thunderstorms, and few of them have hail in them. This was a doozy, however -- those hailstones were bigger than fat peas, and they were coming down hard. When they began pinging off us and the front of the house, we retreated, and simply ran from window to window, laughing and marveling at the miracle of ice flying down out of the sky.

The weather service had forecast a possible thundershower for Friday afternoon, and they got it right in that regard. It did rain, and it did thunder, but they neglected to point out that it would come down so hard that in a matter of minutes, we had two inches of water standing on the back patio, and a veritable river streaming down the south side of the house, and piles of hailstones four inches deep against the fence.

Lil ran outside to glory in the elements for about five seconds -- hailstones hurt when they hit. And the temperature had dropped from a balmy 68 degrees to 48 in about ten minutes.

The little chair is on the front porch, which was sheltered, mostly. By that point, the hail and downpour had stopped, and I had returned to the kitchen and the pot roast I had been browning (it was a little dark, but not burnt), glad of the heat from the stove.

Bernie and I went for a walk later, just to peer at the piles of hail still melting in peoples' gardens and lawns. The air was scrubbed about as clean as it ever gets here in the Central Valley; in addition, if there were any leaves waiting to drop in this area, they were now done.

The geraniums in the background took a bit of a beating, and we lost some tiny oranges that had just set, but the blueberries, the tomato blossoms, and the cherry tree were fine.

The only thing I should have done was shovel up some of that hail and put it in the freezer, so that I can look at it on Wednesday, when the temps are supposed to soar into the 90s.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Today is the last Wednesday of Lent. Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, and the beginning of the Triduum. I began Lent with a fever, and am trying not to be annoyed that I'm ending Lent with another one, after years of not getting sick. 2014: The Fever Lent.

I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. It's making me remember this Lent, which could be good; the last Lent I actually remember was one during which I walked every day, praying the Rosary as I strode along with Howie on his leash. Before that, I don't really remember Lents, except for 2001, when I slept on the floor and kept a dream journal -- which proved fruitful for me. But I will remember this Fever Lent.

Focusing on the Ignatian Examen as much as my fevered brain can, I've tried to let myself get away from thinking that this world is the reality of mankind. It isn't. It's a construct, much like the world of The Matrix. (At least the first one in the trilogy -- the other two were just stupid.) We move through it, but it isn't what's real.

Or better said, it isn't what is ultimately real.

Anyway, the Examen begins with this sentence: "Recall you are in the presence of God." Now somehow, that calls to mind being in the presence of the King, or maybe being called before the presence of the judge, as though we stand before God. God over there, us over here. We are in front of God. We are in God's room. God sits on his throne and smacks his head over the idiot standing with hat in hand bawling, "Please, Massa, don' beat on this poor old sinner!"

Phraseology can be tricky. What if the word in that sentence -- "in" -- was the focus?

God is not over there or apart from us. God is All in All. There is no "place" that God goes away to when he's tired of hearing us whine; indeed, God doesn't get tired.

The presence of God is what is real. I need to recall daily that I am in that presence. Embedded, carried, held, -- inside, not apart. Not standing in front of, not down on Earth looking up at clouds wondering if God is reclining up there, not on the other side of some impenetrable wall. This creation is God, held in being by God, and I am in that.

For me, this is a good thought to carry away from this Lent. 2014, the Lent of Fever and In.

Monday, April 14, 2014

After Seder

The night before this picture was taken, when our haverim (sometimes spelled chaverim) guests have left, I change into pajama pants and my softest, comfiest shirt.

We prepare for Seder (a Passover celebration) all week before participating in the ritual and dinner on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and that Saturday is a flurry of work and adrenaline-pumping anticipation from about 6:30 in the morning: waking up, showering, setting out our nice clothes, picking up the rental chairs, dishes, stemware, and flatware; running the vacuum everywhere (Howie sheds heavily in the spring), mopping, wiping dirty little fingermarks off all the appliances, picking up flowers at the florist (and arranging them), cooking lamb and lasagna casserole, getting ice and whatever else we forgot at the store, moving furniture out of the front rooms ... crazy! Then the guests arrive around six, and everyone is eager to break into the wine and hear about all the "family news." Wine bottles are opened, the guests forget that we rent stemware and drag out the old mismatched wine glasses from the top dusty shelf, the kids descend on the noshes like locusts, and suddenly the kitchen is trashed in every empty space and counters are full of potluck offerings.

By 10:30, most everyone has left. Bernie was exhausted (he does all the heavy lifting) and I encouraged him to hit the sack. Looking around the kitchen at the mess and chaos, I remembered Cheryl Haimann's poem, "Keeping House," poured myself a big glass of wine over ice, and began doing dishes.

Wash five dishes, have a sip of wine. Remember how many Seders we've celebrated with these table friends: twenty-four. Dry some dishes, wash some more. Another sip, another memory, of how much the children have grown. Gather up the tablecloths (including the one the kids have spilled grape juice all over) and put them in the washer on Pre-Wash. Another sip, and now the pitcher and bowl used for the ritual hand-washing that begins Seder.

But don't put it away. Put it back on the table, beside the candles and the centerpiece, and the matzot, still wrapped in their white muslin cloth, Elijah's cup, and Bernie's yarmulka. Now to finish the dishes -- not so many after all, look around the counters and remember the fine friends who were there a bare hour or so ago, closer than family.

Peek out into the darkened front room and see the symbols of Seder there, listening again to the guests singing "Shalom, Haverim" in a perfect round to finish Seder, beautiful and haunting in our echoey room. (Nice recording; we sing it at a slightly faster tempo.)

In the morning, when I wake, I go out to the room again, and there are the symbols of a beautiful Seder, and I look forward to next year once again.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Search for Meaning in Lent

Ah, Lent.

Kicked off by Sebastian's death, Ash Wednesday found me running a fever and sick with some annoying flu, with its attendant malais, coughing, and having to sleep sitting up. For a full two weeks I had the energy level of a salted slug.

During that time, the family tried to adopt a new pup, but sadly, the breeder lied about the little tyke's mental and physical fitness, and he was returned to the breeder's ownership so that she can be responsible when he seriously bites someone, which he will undoubtedly do.

Howie turned 13. That's old, and my dear little dog is definitely showing his age. He falls down if he doesn't focus on how he moves, and sometimes he panics when he can't get his feet back under him. Fortunately he doesn't roam around the house when I'm not here, and when I am here, he's with me, so I can get to him and calm him down until he can regain his feet. But I've noticed him bumping into things, and getting confused if he wanders into an unusual part of the yard; I have raise my voice to get his attention instead of the whisper or snap of my fingers I used before.

And Dink, my horse, is now 24 years old. That's old, too. He lost weight again this winter, so I have to supplement his feed with five pounds of senior horse feed each day. His energy level has tapered off and he's having trouble chewing his food properly.

A couple days ago, in a mood of purgation, I cleaned out my bedroom closet. It was disgusting; I don't think I'd cleaned in there for five years, maybe more. I ended up throwing out two huge garbage bags of clothes that were so junky (and unworn anymore) they weren't eligible to donate to charity, getting rid of ancient electronic equipment coated with San Joaquin Valley dust, and packing two more bags of clothes that were donatable that I just didn't want to wear anymore.

What does this mean for a Lenten message to me? Loss, impending loss, paring down the things I hold... I keep going back to this paragraph in St. Ignatius of Loyola's "First Principle and Foundation:"
... as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

I love my life, the world I live in, the people and creatures around me. But I do not own them. I must learn simply to honor them all, and rejoice in the Creation that has held them.

The photo is of blossoms on my cherry tree.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Joan: Acute Cute

She helps me load the wet clothes to the dryer. She helps me take the dry clothes out of the dryer. She would love to sort the dirty clothes to the proper hampers, but I draw the line at that.

Joan Maria loves retail adventures. Tractor Supply for horse feed, Trader Joe's for cheddar cheese and lettuce, Target for paper products, Lowe's for hardware -- any of those are her cup of tea. The sights! The sounds! The free samples!

She hangs around in the kitchen when we're cooking, using her own personal language to explain when she wants to taste or eat. She has started trying to say "Up" to be picked up to see what's going on in the pans on the stove. She knows where all her favorite foods are kept, be it freezer or pantry or fridge.

When in my studio, she has certain things that are "hers" to play with: a big coffee can (which may either be a drum or a repository, or a ballistic missile to roll down the driveway onto the street) and two rolls of masking tape from beneath my work table. In this picture, she was taking the lid off the can, adding the two tapes, putting the lid on. Over and over again.

Which was cute in itself.

But her mother, hoping to secure my early demise, put Joan's hair into two wispy pigtails.

Death by cuteness, that's how I'm going to go.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Yuck for Lent

I've said for years that if you don't decide on a path for Lent, the Powers That Be will choose one for you. I guess I wasn't clear enough about my path; I thought I'd sing a hymn a day, do some religious reading. But instead I was sent a variety of flu that my autumn inoculation apparently didn't cover. So this first week of Lent has been spent largely on pondering the Jesuit way of approaching life: you should neither want to die nor live, but accept what is given you.

I didn't really want to die, but this flu certainly did put a dent in wanting to keep on living like that.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Winter Garden

I got a bit of a late start last autumn with my winter garden; I really should get stuff started in the beginning of October, but at that time I was still harvesting tomatoes and zucchinis. Nevertheless, the beginning of November still gave me enough time to get some greens in, and snow peas.

In the most successful planter (the one that got regular water and had no roaming cats taking a crap in it) I had snow peas, then a row of delicious red-leaf lettuce, and a double row of spinach.

We've had plenty of peas for sides of stir-fried veggies, and enough spinach for salads; I'm the only one who eats the dark lettuce, but I don't mind. A recent storm knocked my peas off their trellis, so the extra string was necessary to prop them up.

The chard and the seed onions didn't work out so well -- those were the ones that needed to go into the garden earlier. That was the planter that the cats got into, until I took twine and strung a criss-cross pattern across the top.

Soon it will be time to switch over to the summer planting, which will be tomatoes without rhyme or reason, and zukes again, and corn. And some cucumbers.

(And more tomatoes.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Farewell, Faithful Hound

Sebastian's all-too-short life ended today, unexpectedly, unfairly, inexplicably. He had to be put to sleep after a week of illness: we and the vet thought it was gastroenteritis, that he had eaten something that disagreed with him, and that in a few days he'd be back to his hungry happy old self. Unfortunately we were wrong. His kidneys just stopped functioning. And now he's gone.

He was John my son-in-law's dog. When John would have nightmares of battlefields and wake disoriented, Sebastian was there on the bed beside him to lick his face; if John thought he heard something odd in the night, Sebastian was his key to what was real and what was dream-farts. When the pain from John's back sent him to lie in bed, Sebastian was always glad to climb onto the bed and snuggle against his daddy. And watch him, waiting for John to open his eyes so that he could sneak a lick on John's eyeballs.

He was Lillian's dog. He was her first puppy, her playmate in the pool (for hours at a time), her warm pet to share a couch with while she listened to music or watched videos on her tablet. He was her trainer on how to be a dog owner, how to walk with a dog on a leash.

He was Alex's dog. All the dogs she had in her life before were my dogs, Bernie's dogs. Sebastian was her first doggy clay to train, and what a perfect gentleman she made of him. She taught him to heel, to sit, to lie down; she taught him to fetch and release a toy, to pick up any object and put it in John's hand so that he wouldn't have to bend as often. He was her Good Little Dog.

He was our dog, too. From the time he was a puppy, one of his favorite things was to shove himself between people's legs. I'd tickle him in the ribs when he did that, and he would stomp and huff with pleasure. He would climb into Bernie's lap for close-up cuddling. He was once even a Peek of the Week on the Piker Press, and later I used his eyes for part of the illustration for Kimberly Zeidner's story, "Paradoxica."

Sebastian, you've left a big hole in our household, and we will miss you so much.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Home Depot Customer "Service" and How Much It Sucks

I've been looking for a blueberry plant as a companion to the one already in the yard. Wouldn't want the old one to get lonely, now would I?

I found this one at Home Depot. It was nicely shaped, and absolutely burgeoning with buds. Even though there was no varietal name on the label, the recipe for muffins on the label made me think it might be a self-fruitful variety, and I do have the older blueberry (which is self-fruitful, but could act as a pollinator), so I wasn't worried.

And dang, in spite of the sign in front of the display, this little darling was marked $6.88, a great price compared to the $8.98 on the sign. I snatched it up, thrilled to save two dollars.

But wait, when the cashier rang up my purchase, the price came up as $8.98! I turned the plant around and noted to the cashier that the price marked on the label was $6.88. She shrugged. "Those labels are always wrong."

Now, I've worked in retail, and learned at my mother's knee in her nursery/greenhouse, "The Customer Is Always Right." Even 40 years later, working for Orchard Supply Hardware, the same rule applied. You have it labeled wrong, you go with the price on the label. You ring up a customer, they quarrel with the price, you get a manager there ASAP and the customer get the price on the label. And afterward the manager goes and adjusts the barcodes and signs and gets it right. Every store has a computer system to generate correct barcodes. You go to the computer, punch in the UPC, set the price, and print out the new labels, which you then put on the product. Easy. Shrugging off a customer doesn't make it.

"Wrong answer," I replied.

She said not another word, handed me the receipt, and turned away.

Naturally, when I got home, I took the survey Home Depot invites you to take, and explained what had happened. They sent an automated response saying that someone from the store would call me at my convenience, did I receive calls in the morning, afternoon, or evening?

Morning, of course.

The next evening while no one was at home, I did receive a call, purportedly from the Store Manager, and he did leave a message. A very generic message, which meant he obviously had no idea why he was supposed to be calling, and he did leave a number to call him back ... but I could not make out what the last digit of the number was, and frankly, didn't feel like bickering with him and having to make another trip out of town to get to Home Depot for a lousy $2. It would have taken an hour to get there and back, and I don't work for $2/hr.

But, as it turned out, four days later we were in Home Depot again, to pick up a part that had finally come in. I headed out to the nursery to see if, at least, they had fixed their little boo-boo.

Signage still said $8.98. And on the labels of all those blueberry plants in the display, their little barcode and price said:

Home Depot didn't give half a shit about a customer complaint. They didn't give a shit about setting their store display correctly. They didn't give a shit about correcting things. Well, in fact, I've never known them to give a shit about anything customer. The only reason we were in the store in the first place is that they said they had the part we needed for our sink, because otherwise, they're a disappointingly lousy operation.

Alex wanted me to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau and with California Department of Weights and Measures, but those few days, I just didn't have time. That's what places like Home Depot count on, I guess. Best I can do is not shop there again.

And I won't.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Milestone

This afternoon, I was playing with my watercolors. I got this book out of the library, called Watercolors: A new way to learn how to paint. I'm not bothering to link to the book because it was very simplistic and not very helpful. The one good point it made was that with watercolors, you have to be patient and allow them to dry before working with adjacent sections.

Blah, blah, get your paintbrush loaded with color. More color is more vivid, add water to dilute it. Duh. Blah, blah, add water and move the color across the page for a wash, more and more water for a graduated wash. Blah, blah, draw your outlines in with pencil ... wait, what? You have to learn to draw first? Bah, humbug.

What I do have is a cheap set of watercolors, the kind you get at Target or Walmart, a recently-purchased set of brushes that have turned out to be simply luscious to work with, and lots and lots of watercolor paper pads.
 No, really, a lot.

Sometimes I chide my daughter for being a hoarder, but when it comes to art supplies, I'm the hoardest. Sketch pads, white and grey and tan, all different sizes; colored construction paper in four sizes (and multiples of each); pastel papers in a pad that I lusted for and can't bring myself to spoil with my crappy art; oil canvases in their myriads; watercolor paper. Unless I get my ass into very high gear, I will never use up what I have hoarded in the studio before I die.

Today, however, something new happened. I pulled four sheets of watercolor paper for "stretching" (soaking with water and flattening on a polyurethaned board so they don't buckle), two of Strathmore paper and two of Bienfang. Since I can't do anything with them until they are dry, I got another sheet of Strathmore and used some watercolor pencils to draw some geometric shapes, then filled them in with paint. But I wasn't ready to be done; I got a reference photo from my digital pics, put it up on the laptop (the old one that came back from the dead) and ... tore the last sheet of paper from the 9 x 12 Strathmore pad.

It's ... empty.


I worked on the new watercolor for a while, and had some success with it before I had to stop for the night. I peek at my art work, always surprised at what comes out of my hands and brain, but what my eyes keep coming back to is that empty pad. Cover, backing, nothing more.

My guess is that it's been a quarter of a century since I used up a pad.

But I discovered yesterday an interesting function of Photoshop that yielded some VERY interesting results, and as I said before, I love this new Prolene brush, so maybe I'll break some records.

A shame my husband reads my blog, otherwise I could show him the empty watercolor pad and convince him to buy me five more.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Since we have had few clouds lately, I had a chance the other night to photograph the moon in the evening sky.

I tried every setting on the dial on my camera (except video) and frankly, except for a couple settings making the sky appear more blue, the focus remained the same. Apparently the trick is to get the photo before it gets dark.

Over at the Resolution Blog, I've posted another moon picture, one I tinkered with a little in Photoshop.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Quite the Day

This is what the avocado tree looked like at the end of that nasty freeze we had a couple weeks ago. Poor thing really took a beating.

But although this tree plays into today's monumental occurrences, the brown of the leaves does not. The tree will live.

The least savory amazing thing today was seeing a dead fox along the side of the road. Now I don't like animals being hit by cars at all, but while wondering why an animal as smart as a fox would get hit at an intersection right by a stop sign, I had to admire the size of the fox, and the richness of its pelt. It's fur was beautiful, and though it was dead, it was a reminder that this area does support some grand wildlife.

And speaking of wildlife, around lunchtime Bernie called me to the back door (the same one the thrush had hit, see below a day or two) to see an unusual bird. There, sipping out of the little fishpond, was a female oriole. (Bullock's Race) I've never seen a lady oriole in our yard before, and it's been many years since I saw a male. Glorious!

But there to the right was the capper for the day:
As Bernie was watering plants, including the beat-up avocado tree, he spied something in the branches.

Our very first avocado from our very own tree.

Now that's something!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

But Can She Make Bread?

The grocery store we most often frequent makes the best French bread I've ever tasted.

They churn out loaves all day long, and recently have even begun slicing it, which makes for some heavenly sandwiches. Of note, it is only this local store that makes the bread so perfectly. Other stores in the chain just ... can't do it so well.

How difficult can it be, I asked myself. Especially when Bernie has a lovely Kitchen Aid stand mixer to do the kneading for me.

I found an easy recipe, and had at it. The loaves are beautiful, and it is indeed bread. So the answer to the title of this post is "Yes, she can."

The texture is nice, the smell is nice, the taste is ... nice.

But it's not as good as our Savemart store's bread, and while the older folks in the household all say my bread is good, Joan the Ba-Ba (18 months old makes for an impartial judge) agrees with me. She saw the loaves of French bread and begged for some, just as she does when we take her to Savemart with us. I cut her a slice, she bit into it.

She handed me the slice back and walked away.

Oh well.

Friday, January 03, 2014

You Dope, What Were You Thinking?

Each winter a thrush -- or maybe several -- makes his hangout our back patio, sipping from or bathing in the birdbath, rummaging around the plants on the back bank. In this picture, I caught the thrush rooting through the rosemary plants for whatever it is thrushes eat.

But this evening, as the sun was going down, there was a whonk! on the sliding glass door to the patio, and Alex exclaimed, "Oh, what have you done?"

We all talk to the birds. Who cares if they don't understand? We don't, they don't. Maybe they do understand. But Bernie and I rushed to the back door to see what bird had knocked himself simple (or killed himself) flying into the glass. Looking at the greyish-brown back, and catching a glimpse of the chest stripes, we knew it was our thrush. "Why where you flying so close to the house?" I asked. Usually he is no closer than the bird bath.

The poor thrush was lying on his belly on the cement outside the door, his head bent at a horridly unnatural angle. It didn't look good for the bird at that point.

But we've watched other glass-bonkers rally in the past, and while the thrush was still breathing, we kept vigil, with 18-month-old Joan shouting encouragement at the bird and thumping on the glass door.

Abruptly, the thrush rotated his head back to a normal angle. Good, good, bird's still breathing. A few minutes later, with a stagger, the thrush stood up. One foot was kind of bent under itself, but it was progress.

Then it was a waiting game, Bernie and I poised to open the door and drive off any of the myriad of loose cats that wander the neighborhood. The sun went down. Alex turned on the patio light. The thrush still stood there in the same position, breathing, unresponsive to our movements on the inside of the door.

It was nearly dark when the thrush turned his head and looked at us. He watched us all for a few minutes, then hopped forward, away from the house, his foot righting itself. We cheered as he hopped towards the back bank, and we followed with a flashlight, to make sure he wasn't going to try to go to sleep on the ground.

He hopped onto the retaining wall, and again took some minutes to re-boot his birdy programming. At last he fluttered up into the nandina bush, and we all expressed relief in cheers and sighs: a cat couldn't get to him there.

I have no idea why birds fly into glass, especially ones that usually don't come close to the house. But when one does, just leave it alone until it either gets up and flies away, or dies. Please don't try to "help" the bird by picking it up. The impact throws them into shock, and handling by a giant can push the shocked system right into the only escape possible -- death by terror.

We're all hoping to see the thrush back at the bird bath tomorrow around ten, when he usually drops by for a drink.

Cheers, Thrush.