Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Standing Rib Roast? Seriously?

No, that wasn't tonight's evening sky, it was a couple weeks ago. But the feeling you get when you see a rainbow arch across your winter sky is like the feeling I had when I bit into my first nibble of my first attempt at a standing rib roast this afternoon.

Number One, I couldn't afford a standing rib roast. Number Two, I didn't know how to cook one. Number Three, wasn't about to ruin an expensive cut of meat with a culinary mishap.

But this year, things were different. Our Save Mart supermarket has been introducing a line of beef called Angus 43. It was heartbreaking when they stopped carrying Harris Ranch Beef (which is incredibly tasty) and I kind of sneered at the Angus 43 when they began advertising it. But when they offered boneless New York strip steak for the absurd price of $5.99/lb, I sprang for a couple ... and was pleasantly surprised. Tender, good flavor, okay. They've gradually reeled me in, and when they put standing rib roasts on sale for $6.99/lb, I began salivating and researching.

As it turns out, it is so dang simple to make that there is simply no reason to take the family out for a luxury dinner of prime rib.

We scored a little-ish 5-pound standing rib roast, let it sit on the counter for a couple hours to come to room temperature. I rubbed it with extra virgin olive oil, then seasoned the fat cap with salt, pepper, and finely ground garlic powder. It was already tied at the store, so I shoved it into the oven, ribs-side down in a shallow baking pan, for 25 minutes at 450 degrees. After that, with its now gorgeously browned exterior, it gets the temp taken back to 350 until the interior reaches 120 degrees. Then out it comes, gets wrapped in heavy duty aluminum foil, and "rests" for about 20 minutes while you get the rest of the meal finished.


Was that Christmas dinner? No, this is Christmas Eve Eve, and we're making a big homemade taco spread for Christmas. This was just for fun, a continuation of the kitchen experimentation of the weekend.

One last thing, about the internal temperature of the meat. We use a Taylor Meat Thermometer with a probe whose cord comes conveniently out the side of the oven door. Good for roasts, good for chickens in the oven, only about $20. An alarm sounds when the temp approaches 20 degrees of the desired temp, again (a bit more frantically) when the temp is 10 degrees off, and then beeps like a banshee when it gets to the proper temperature.

No, that wasn't the last thing. We got the roast with ribs attached, the whole thing tied up with cotton cooking string. Without the string, the ribs fall off. Without the ribs, you have to use a rack.

If you use a rack, you have to wash the rack, and you don't have the bones to gnaw as a snack the next day.

For your next birthday, ask for a standing rib roast to cook.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Clams and Calamari -- Christmas Cheer

Last Saturday, I was seized by a mood to create something, something new and exciting, something I've never tried before. I wanted to leap forward in the face of fear and conquer my inner scaredy-cat.

"Today is the day," I told myself before our exercise walk. "I am going to throw caution to the winds, not worry about the cost, not tremble at the thought of failure. I'm going to try to make my own fried calamari." And with that, I opened the freezer and brought out a bag of frozen calamari I picked up somewhere (can't remember if it was Sprouts or Winco) on a whim.

Bernie and I had tried fried calamari before; we bought a package of whole squids and it took forever and ja-pip to clean them. Deep frying them got us a ton of tasty morsels, but it was a spattery mess that had to be done outside and they were fairly greasy. Didn't want to do that again.

This bag of calamari was nicely cleaned and cut into rings and tentacles, much more appealing to work with. I put it on the counter to thaw and we took our walk down by the river with Ep (who is turning into a really good little dog). Upon return, we realized we had to go to the store for onions, among other things. At the store my mood overwhelmed me, and when we walked past the fish counter, I spotted a bag of Venus clams, all tightly closed.

Clams are another thing I'd never tried cooking, even though if I see "linguini vongole" on a menu, I'll order it before anything else. Clams AND fried calamari! Clear the kitchen, Sand is on a seafood rampage!

I did the mise en place thing and laid out my pans, tongs, olive oil, onions and garlic, cup of white wine (who knew I'd have that on hand?) as well as put some water on to boil for 2 ounces of angel hair pasta. I scrubbed my clams, sauteed my onion and garlic, added wine, cooked it a little, added my two pounds of clams and a little more water, and hey presto, ten minutes later was serving pasta and clams with a white wine and cream pan sauce.

It was good! Actually it was just about as good as any seafood pasta I've ever had.

But that was just the warm-up band, the main act was the calamari.

Once again I set out my implements: a dish of seasoned flour, a shallow bowl of almond milk, a fry pan with high-ish sides with a quarter inch of olive oil in it. Another dish with paper towels for the end result to drain. A spatula and a chopstick to turn each calamari piece.

Then: dump the calamari into the milk, dredge in the flour, fry two minutes on each side of rings (three on tentacles to get them crunchier) and there it is. Fried calamari, and I didn't have to go to San Francisco or Santa Cruz to get it.

Serve with tartar sauce or whatever. It's great. Delicious. Easy.

Successful Saturday, creative urges and seafood cravings satiated.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanks for a Grand Thanksgiving

What is this? A ham for Thanksgiving?

Yes, Joma is a ham any time there is a camera in the room. Very proud of her first year as Bread Shredder. While she tore bread up for stuffing, I made some pie shells in the oven, getting ready for Legendary Pumpkin Pie.  And I didn't do much else all day, except for one thing, which I'll speak of in a bit.

In an unusual fit of preparedness, on Wednesday I made the celery-and-onion seasoning for the stuffing, and with a little extra time on my hands, stewed giblets for broth as well. Thus on Thanksgiving morning, pie shells were all I had to do.

Alex and Lil tackled the turkey; we always remove the legs and wings and cook them in foil separately so they don't dry out. The turkey is stuffed and trussed up -- looks kind of odd, but it works.

I think this is really the first year that Lil had a chance to handle the turkey. I KNOW it was the first time I let her handle the Victorinox chef's knife she used to cut the wings away. My job was to "supervise" -- that is, to pace back and forth between the kitchen to sweat about people cutting themselves and the living room to swear at stupid calls in football games and ask John about rules that made me swear in confusion.

When it was the opportune time for the pumpkin pie, I walked away, and found something else to do, finally leaving Alex and Lil to the family tradition. They did a fine job of it, too.

What remained of my required attention was the turkey gravy. Bernie had two cups of his excellent homemade chicken broth in the fridge, so I combined that with my giblet juice, added a bit of salt and some thyme, and reduced the broth by about half before adding it to the drippings in the turkey roaster. A slurry of cornstarch and water, and the gravy was done. It was The Best Gravy I've ever made.

Bernie took a swing at a new dish, too: in addition to his cranberry sauce, he made a similar side dish with pomegranates. WONDERFUL!

With peace and family, and great food, it was a delightful Thanksgiving celebration. I'm thankful that we're a family together, and will add in an extra thanks for the continuing blessing of my gravy by Fr. Schmalhofer.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Natural Bridges State Park -- and Monarch Butterflies!

"Want to make a day trip with us?" I asked our grand-daughter Lillian. "I promise not to nearly die."

With no ill will towards me after my debilitating encounter with noxious chemicals on our previous road trip, Lil enthusiastically agreed to make it a day of wonder and go to Santa Cruz, to Natural Bridges State Park for a visit with hundreds upon hundreds of monarch butterflies.

There are a few spots on the West Coast where the butterflies congregate, and a big colony in Mexico. These are the fourth generation of the year, and they live six to eight months -- enough time to travel to the communal hibernation grounds, winter over, and then head out in the spring to produce Generation One. One, Two, and Three spread east and north, mating and laying eggs on milkweed plants, living only about two to six weeks. Then back Generation Four comes.

We got to Natural Bridges at a perfect time of the morning on a perfect day. Usually when we've gone to Santa Cruz, it's fogged in and chilly. This day was clear and warm, and at 10 am, the butterflies in the eucalyptus grove were just being touched by the sunlight, making them flutter and then take off looking for breakfast.

Some of the butterflies at the top of the trees got warmed up enough to take off, but in the chill morning air, fell out of the sky. This one on the right landed on the observation deck and sat there in a chilly stupor until the ambient air temperature rose.

It was astounding to be able to get practically nose to nose with the beautiful creature; when can you get close to a butterfly in your garden? Not very often -- I've tried.

The observation deck is at the bottom of a gully, with ramps leading down to it from the parking lot and park offices. The gully has a grove of eucalyptus trees and thick vining vegetation on all of its sides. Visitors standing or sitting on the observation deck were quiet, in awe, looking up at the clusters of monarch clinging to the branches, the warmer ones sailing about in every square yard above.  There was a sense of holiness to the place, a sense of being part of something so large and mysterious that there were no ready words to describe it, as though even trying to put a description to the heart's feeling would be wrong.

They're hard to get on camera up there in the trees, though, especially if you've got a relatively feeble camera. A LOT of the visitors I saw had lenses on their cameras nearly as huge as the ones you see on the sidelines at NFL football games, the lucky hounds. (I would envy them, but I doubt that I have the arm strength to hold anything that size steady.)

This cluster was just starting to have the sun illuminate it, and so the monarchs on the sun side (to the left) were beginning to spread their wings to the heat.

Bernie and I have been to Santa Cruz to visit with the monarchs quite a few times in the past; often enough to shout at the butterflies headed west across our property, "See you in November!" I don't know if Lil was impressed enough to want to do it again next year or not. She seemed to really enjoy the trip, but the sun was so scrumptious that she wished she had been prepared to wade in the ocean, prompting her to rant about preparedness for adventure.

 What's so amazing is the number of butterflies. The photo to the right looks like a tree with dead leaves thickening it. But they aren't leaves, you're just seeing the underside of the wings of thousands of monarchs. Down in the gully, there's not enough light to see the color, and by the time the sun brightens up that brilliant orange, the monarchs are ready to flutter away.

Sadly, there's a big decline in monarch populations, largely due to farmers' indiscriminate use of herbicides. Milkweed, which is the food for monarch caterpillars, is a weed. It grew in the fields and forests of Pennsylvania, where I grew up. (Which had to be one looooong trip for the poor monarchs headed back to Mexico in the fall.) But it's also due to people with good intentions planting prettily-colored tropical milkweed, which harbors a caterpillar parasite that damages the insect. (Back-east milkweed was just green, with insignificant whitish flowers.)

 But back to the visit. The sun rose, and the lovely lady spread her wings. "Recharging her solar power panels," a ranger told us. And indeed, she turned from facing into the sun to present her back and wings to the most light.

We know she's a lady monarch because the dark lines on her lower wings are thicker, and contain no black dots. Boys have dots, girls don't.

When we had hogged all the time we could on the observation platform, we saw a herd of kindergarten children swarming with their teachers, on a field trip to introduce the little Santa Cruzians to their winter neighbors. It was time to take a gentle hike down the trails to the beach. ...And then backtrack, because recent rains had flooded the end of the trail. We made our way through the park to the sun-warmed rocks by the ocean, and spent another hour or so watching the waves and the seabirds. By then, it was lunchtime, and we had plans.

After a ten year absence, we were headed back to The Crow's Nest, a restaurant on Santa Cruz Harbor. We loved it ten years ago (has it really been that long since we were there?) and it did not disappoint us at all. The menu is a little different, but the interior was impeccable, the wine list lovely, and the food was good. I think if we mention that we'd be doing dinner there again, Lil would jump into the car and wait for us.

One last thing, let's be equal opportunity photographers, and get a boy monarch into the picture, with his dotted lower wings:

See? A tiny black dot on his much thinner black stripes. A fashion statement from the insect world.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Bake Red Potatoes? Yes, You Can

Some time ago I happened upon a site that promised a recipe for perfect baked potatoes. I tried the method, and by golly, they were perfect.

But having stumbled onto a really good price on red potatoes (ten pounds for $1.98? Now that's good) I wondered whether or not they'd be any good baked, as all the recipes I could find insisted on russet potatoes.

Really. All of them. If you "google" red potatoes baked, you get hundreds of recipes for cutting the red potatoes up and roasting them. "No, no, no," I said to the computer, "I don't want to cut the potatoes up, I want to bake them." The computer shrugged and yellow letters on a red screen said If you don't like my answers, then don't ask me.

If I tried baking red potatoes, and it didn't work, I'd just have to make them into country style hash browns. That means a win-win situation. And was it ever a win! The red baked potatoes had an almost creamy texture that won the family over into never using russets again if we can get red potatoes. And here's the method I use:

Red potatoes a little smaller than my fist. Honestly, no matter how good it tastes, a red potato that size is a goodly portion. You don't need to eat baked potatoes the size of footballs. Let's start again...

Red potatoes, scrubbed, with no sprouts. Dry them.
Use a little extra virgin olive oil and make their red skin shiny.
Sprinkle with kosher salt. (The flakes of kosher salt stick better.)
Bake on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees
For one hour.
Test with an instant-read meat thermometer -- 210 degrees means your potatoes are done.

Eat. Butter and sour cream or whatever you love on baked potatoes. Enjoy.

No, you don't have to cook them on a rack. No, you don't have to pierce them.

Red, not russet.


Monday, November 02, 2015

You Could Take a Bath in That

Having been promised a wet winter -- which California desperately needs -- Bernie and I embarked on some home improvements to prepare for rain. This morning we got to see our plans in action.

We love having a sliding glass door that leads from our bedroom to our brick patio, largely because we can leave it open and feel like we're camping out. However, when we left it open, the rain from the roof above splashed right down on the bricks outside the door and ... into the room. So we put up a gutter to re-direct the water -- right into a rain-barrel. Water conservation and home improvement in one!

At six-thirty this morning, the barrel was overflowing. Last night it was empty. An inch of rain can do that, I guess. Using the chain as a "downspout" was a total failure, though. We may need to re-think  that one.

We also put up a gutter over the garage door on the side of the house, which re-directs water from the roof that used to make a lake of the north side to a little waterfall out onto the driveway, where the slope sends the rain into the gutter. The Stanislaus River down at the end of the street can use the extra water.

Outside our kitchen, water used to collect on the patio there, too. In 1997 I dug a trench on the south side of the house to draw off that El Nino rainfall, but over the past 18 years much of it filled in, so it couldn't handle all the runoff.

This past summer Bernie dug a retention pond off the patio, which was darn hard work, but it worked. The geranium in the pot sunk in the pond won't mind the extra water too much, but we might have to relocate it before the next wave of rains roll through.

All in all, we're feeling quite festive about our first heavy rain of the winter, and hopeful that the winter will help with the drought.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Clean Mountain Air

So the hotel (which I will describe more fully in days to come when I feel less bitter) was not full of clean mountain air. It was mildewy, masked with air freshener spray. The beds were uncomfortable, the room cramped. I hardly slept, because I was coughing more and more, and it was getting even harder to breathe.

Nevertheless, with the optimism of any eager traveler, I thought I would snap out of it and be fine any minute, and we continued on our itinerary to Sedona, land of artistes and red rock. Amazingly, on the beautiful two-lane winding road, when we dropped to 6000 feet, I gasped and drew air deeply into my lungs! Crap! It wasn't just the chemicals, I had altitude sickness as well!

How that happens is beyond me, unless it was just because my respiratory tract was compromised. I've been to the Grand Canyon area before and never had trouble. But oh, blessed road down the mountain! Suddenly the world seemed a lot better than it had.

Like a wonder of the ancient world, along the side of the road there appeared a nice little parking area beside the likes of which I have not seen since I was young and the mountains of Pennsylvania were cleaner: a spring, with water pouring in twin streams, drinking water fresh from the earth. I tasted it, and it was delicious. We filled up all our emptied water bottles avidly, trading comments about how good it was, and how amazing it was, with locals and tourists alike, for the spring had an unending stream of patrons.

For that alone I would have made the trip to Sedona, and I would love to visit Sedona again in the future. We drove, and walked, and snapped photos and soaked in the splendor.

After dinner at The Barking Frog, (an eclectic little restaurant with good service and tasty food), we returned to the top of the plateau at 7300 ft.

Again I coughed through much of the night. I can tough this out, I thought. It was Wednesday, and I only had to make it through Thursday night.

In the morning, we headed for the Grand Canyon. I had in mind walking the rim trail from the Visitor Center to Bright Angel Point, about 4.4 miles round trip. Easy.


Even though we took it slow, the exercise was wearing on me. I couldn't get more than about 50 - 75 feet before I had to sit and catch my breath. We got some good photos, and saw some incredibly beautiful vistas, but by afternoon, the only thing I cared about was my next breath.

I began getting a typical altitude-sickness headache, and was losing my sense of direction; crossing the parking lot to the car was an ordeal. I can make it one more day. Feeling the tightness as I breathed in ... No, I can't.

Hurrah for Expedia! When we hit our hotel room, I fired up my laptop and was able to book a room at a Holiday Inn Express in Kingman, Arizona. We loaded up and headed west. By 5000 feet, I could draw a breath again, and by 5pm, we were in our room, happy as birthday-party children about how CLEAN and luxurious the room was.

There are lots of photos, and lots of things to say, but they will have to wait. We made it there, we made it out. We took our grand-daughter to see things she had never seen before.

Maybe next road trip, we'll just stay along the coast.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Deep Blue Sky

I'll be just fine as soon as I get into that fresh mountain air, I thought to myself as I choked and coughed and gasped, trying to ease the burning pressure in my lungs.

My evening football game beside the open balcony windows had been a lot of fun for me; the game was entertaining, the accommodations luxurious. But when it was time for bed, the air outside was too cold to leave things open, so the door was closed and we settled in for the night.

In the morning, I woke with a slight cough. Air conditioning can do that, so I didn't worry about it. Bernie and Lil invited me to revisit their sight-seeing of the night before, and a stretch of legs seemed like a good idea, so I accompanied them down into the MGM Grand Casino and Shops complex.

Fifteen minutes into it, I knew I was in trouble. Unlike what I expected, I could smell no cigarettes, even though every table and nook had ashtrays. What I did feel, with a rising sense of horror, was my throat and sinuses constricting, and a growing pain in my chest. Yeah, the air in the casino complex didn't smell of tobacco ... but that was because it was chemically treated, and those chemicals were shutting down my breath.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is real, and it is no joke. After this vacation experience, I feel fairly certain that I've found the condition that is going to end my life sooner or later. Coming out of the casino area finally, I couldn't get enough air to stop the pressure building.

Who knew? The last time I was in a casino of any kind was probably 30 years ago. It was smoky and noisy and nasty back then -- back then, they didn't know how to add chemicals to the air filtration to mask the smell of smoke. Oh, the fortunate days of back then.

So we headed off to the mountains, me coughing intermittently and tasting a chemical wash in my mouth.

We got to Williams, Arizona, and our accommodation for the next three days and nights: Mountain Ranch Resort, with a surprising and charming view of that snow-capped mountain.

Nice, right?

Do stay tuned.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Sleep-over in Las Vegas

The house we lived in on Cooper Drive back in 1997 had three petite bedrooms, two tiny baths, a galley kitchen, and a living room. It was only about 200 square feet bigger than this hotel room. The "living room" certainly isn't smaller than the place on Cooper, and the kitchen area isn't a whole lot smaller than the house on Cooper. The bedroom in this "suite" is bigger than the master bedroom on Cooper, and the bathroom off the bedroom is bigger than Alex's bedroom was back then. Oh, and Lil has a separate bathroom all to herself.

There's a sliding door off the living room in this suite that looks out over Las Vegas Airport and the mountains, giving me a perfect view of the rain and storms coming through the area. On the 8th floor, I have no fear of mosquitoes or intruders, so the door is open to the cool evening air.

The main bath has a jacuzzi tub. While Lil and Bernie took to the streets of Las Vegas to sight-see, I opted to spend nearly an hour soaking in the tub, all the aches of travel leaving my body before turning on Monday Night Football. And while the Seahawks battle the Lions, my greatest vacation holiday wishes have come true: a thunderstorm is rolling in!

This is what I call entertainment.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ocean in the Sky

With the smoke from wildfires lingering in the sky, the dust from the almond orchards clogging sinuses and filters, we don't spend a lot of time outside lately. But in the evening, as the season changes and southern winds bring clouds, we call to each other and run outside to watch the sunset glow and slowly fade.

The other evening the sky was especially lovely, but if you turned your head upside-down, the air was transformed into an ocean. "Oh my gosh, it does look like water!" Lillian exclaimed, laughing. Joma also looked upside-down, but not at the sky. For her, it was enough to see us laugh at her. After all, isn't she more important than the sky?

Cars passed us by on the street; but in both directions, not another soul was outside gazing at that celestial glory. I feel a pang of sorrow noting that, and hope that Lil and Joma will remember to look up and out as they grow to adulthood.

The photo was turned upside down in Photoshop.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Visit with Jack-Jack, and Smoke

The light is lower in the mornings as we approach equinox; seems odd to already see such a difference in when it gets bright. The year has gone by so quickly.

Last night after dark I heard a tapping on our bedroom sliding door, looked up and there was Alex -- and a familiar, very, very welcome face. Standing beside her was our across-the-street neighbor's dog, Jack-Jack.

I flung myself from my rocking chair to the floor, and when Alex opened the door, Jack-Jack ran to me and hunkered down in front of me, sweetly breathing into my face and presenting himself for a petting. And then closer for a cuddle.

It was so good to see his handsome collie-ish face (he's got a blue merle coat with white muzzle, chest, and legs) and to have him so happy to see me, too. Selfishly, I spent a good twenty minutes snuggling with him, stroking his face, playing with his feet, rubbing the belly he presented to me with his head in my lap. I told him how fat he was, and how dirty his fur had gotten. He was happy to hear me focus on him, his grin telling me that he was very appreciative of my attention.

He's getting old, and his gums are in poor condition. God knows what they're feeding him.

When it was time for me to reluctantly send him home, he threw himself back into my lap a couple times, making my heart melt. And then finally, I had to let Alex put a leash on him and give him up again. When I went to the sink and washed my hands, more dirt came off them than when I've been out cleaning the horse's paddock. Can they have been making that beautiful dog sleep outside?

Alex returned Jack-Jack to his house; his owners didn't even know he had been gone. When she walked away, he tried to follow her back.

Ah, well.

This morning when we got in the car to go to church, we found that leaving the windows partly open hadn't been such a good idea as it had seemed yesterday: the car had ash sprinkled all over the interior. When I'd looked at the weather report at 8am, I was a bit annoyed to see that the high was to be in the mid-90's again ... but I think God is good and that a continued heat wave was just the thing to keep us indoors and out of the smoke and ash from the wildfires that are polluting the Central Valley.

And to keep me from standing in the front yard hoping Jack-Jack would escape again.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Corn Week

The corn in the front yard Box #6 is ready.

Today I braved the heat wave and battled the damn ants for my lovely, tender, delicious corn. Now the ants aren't in with the kernels; they appear to be trying to colonize the stalks where the stalks meet the ears. Maybe they see the corn as a grand arcology of high rise apartments. No matter -- not in my corn, they don't. I harvested about a dozen ears and vowed I would fix their shit tomorrow morning. My ally Hose and I will teach them to get off my crops.

We dined on barbecued spare ribs and corn. The ribs were cooked yesterday, and were just as good reheated, but the fresh corn from the stalk was exquisite.

With the temps in the 100's this week, I have to harvest the ripe corn and get it into refrigeration tomorrow, or it will turn to yuck dull starch in the heat. Too bad, I guess I'll have to eat some more of it for lunch.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Learning Experience

Recently we've been pestering Lillian to start learning Spanish. 

She's 13 now, and it's certainly not too soon to be thinking about work experience in her future. And in California, (as in many other places as well) knowing how to speak Spanish can increase her value as an employment candidate tremendously.

And we went to a bi-lingual Mass in August, Lil and Joma and their mama with us; Alex and I kept up with the sermon fairly well; Bernie, Alex and I did fine with liturgical responses in Spanish -- for about five years we attended only Mass in Spanish when Bernie and I worked for a local parish. But for Lil, it was all noise. Only the movements were the same as English Mass.

So Bernie and I were going to spring for a Rosetta course in Spanish for Lil ... and then he found a site that does apparently the same thing -- for free. Duolingo doesn't have the wide scope of languages that Rosetta does, but it has Spanish. Bernie signed up for it, and so did I.

What, wait, am I not half-Mexican? Do I not speak Spanish?

I am, but I don't. At the peak of my linguistic ability, I could read and write Spanish, but had a major mental block about speaking it or hearing it. My mother always -- ALWAYS -- maintained that I should learn Spanish in high school, just as she did. She would not teach me, period.

My brave and intrepid mother was a liar, however; she was a native speaker of Spanish, and while she may have had a class of Spanish in school, even when Alzheimer's was starting to muddle her brain at the tail end of her life, if someone spoke to her in Spanish she understood and responded naturally. That's not book-learning, that's native speaker.

But I'm not a native speaker, and of what Spanish I had, much is lost.

But not all. And Duolingo is really starting to make me forget that I had a hard time hearing and speaking the language. It's a tricky procedure, switching from making me read the words to translating the words to typing what I hear of the words to saying the words. It works almost like a game, and the lessons I've done so far have made me want to do more.

I find myself doing the lessons faster and faster, too, as I learn the format. The first time the little microphone symbol popped up, I had a pang of fear. "Say this: Nosotros leemos los diarios." Now, after only a few days, I'm okay with pronouncing loudly enough to be heard by the machine, and the last lesson I did, the microphone symbol was popping up a lot more of the time.

Even when I had to say, "Mi conejo come pollo." My rabbit eats chicken?

Sure, why not.

Friday, August 28, 2015

No, Not Him

I had Alex accompany me to the animal shelter this morning. She volunteers there for a couple hours each Saturday, and keeps me updated on what's new. Last week she told me a border collie mix had been brought in as a found dog the finder couldn't keep.

Our first dog in the Pilarski household was a border collie mix: Desi, who was so cool we didn't need an air conditioner. So personally being without a dog currently, I thought it might be a good idea to go check out this shelter mutt.

It was a crowd event; all four Queens were there with us to see the dog. He eagerly greeted Alex as she slipped a leash around his neck. That was the good part.

A good-looking little fellow, he was scared of the loud barking of the other dogs, and Alex had to tow him past the cages. Once we got him in the exercise run, he was happy to scamper about off-leash and immediately lifted his leg and peed on the fence, exposing a pair of testicles that would have made any Doberman proud. Hmmm.

Although he initially responded to Alex and Lil's invitation to play, he made a thorough circuit of the run, not only looking to see if the fencing was indeed closed, but also looking up, gauging the height of the fencing. That was a bit disconcerting. And then he pretty much lost interest in the people. A toy got his attention, but me snapping my fingers didn't even merit an ear twitch.

"He's a good looking dog," I said to Alex, "but he's not mine."

The right dog would have been attending to the other three creatures in the pen with him, sorting out who was who and who was the boss, seeking comfort after the sterile environment of the shelter he'd lived in for the past week. The only thing this dog was seeking was a way out.

Have I been pining for another dog? Not really. But all our dogs have appeared at amazingly odd times: Desi when I was nervous about how much Bernie was away from home traveling with work; Babe when one of my co-workers blurted to me, "Do you want a dog? I gotta get rid of my dog!" Howie was so serendipitous that I still have to laugh at telling Bernie I was thinking about getting Babe a companion dog, one that was a German shepherd mix, male, about four months old, neutered ... and then Bernie called me from work a few hours later after reading a newspaper that advertised a German shepherd mix, male, four months old, available for adoption at Delta Humane Society. Sebastian came home with the Queens after they went for a walk past a house that was giving away border collie mix puppies; Eperis arrived after John found a "Free To a Good Home" ad online after Sebastian's untimely death.

Speaking of Ep, he was waiting near the door when we came home from the shelter. He trotted to me instantly, and then sniffed my hands to determine what I had petted. I washed my hands and called him to me again. Eperis flung himself to the floor on his back, begging for a belly rub.

"You da dog," I told him.

...And a Reprieve

After I figured out that my Amazon links were messed up, and knowing the scope of the problem was pretty wide, I sent off an email to the Tech Editor, asking if he'd help me fix the links, figuring that four hands would get the links repaired in half the time. I was wrong.

With his mighty wizardry and knowledge of how computer shit works, he did some kind of magic "find and replace" with the Press guts, and then sent me a reply email the following morning that said that all 800-and-some links were fixed.

I cannot convey what a sense of relief I felt, except that I was so energized by the prospect of not developing terminal eyestrain that I spent the afternoon writing. Thank you, Tech Editor Josh. You made my week.

On a side note, Josh did not tell me how he fixed it. He never tells me how he fixes things in the Press guts. Maybe it's a power trip -- or maybe he just knows that I don't know what I'm doing really, and that in my hands a little bit of knowledge could be a very dangerous thing. If I were him, I wouldn't want someone to risk messing up 13 years of website either.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No Rest for the Wicked

Well, hell.

Just when I got my studio cleaned up (part of it, anyway) and thought I was getting on top (maybe halfway up) of my email correspondence, I discovered that ALL the older links to authors' books in the Piker Press had disappeared and a simple ugly blot replaced them with a sign that said, "Let's Fight Hunger."

Now to be honest, Amazon had said that something bad was going to happen to select links and that I should address the issue, but to be even more honest, what I know about how Amazon links work or even how the Press guts work could be written on one page of a coloring book with a crayon.

And the solution is simple enough: I look up the authors' books on Amazon, get the new links, and replace the old non-functional ones with the new flavor of computer code. That I can do.

There's just so dang many of them.

And then there's the rebuild of my file in which I kept all the old links so that I didn't have to look them up on Amazon when I needed them ...

** Insert heavy sigh here **

I got all of Terry Petersen's stuff done, and all of Barry Kirwan's. Tomorrow I'll do some more.

And the day after that, and the day after that, etc.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

That Dang Horse

It's been about two years and some since Lord Duquesne (AKA "Dink") fell ill and lost weight and I thought I was never going to get our feisty Appaloosa back to health. Thought he was going to die, in fact. He was 23 years old, after all -- that's pretty old for a horse.

I stopped taking him out on long trail rides; not only was he looking poorly, but I also found myself short on time and couldn't spare the nine hours or more spent on getting to a remote location, a long ride, and more hours to get home.

At the advice of our shoer, I began feeding Dink Purina Senior Horse Feed, five pounds of it a day. Amazingly, his gaunt frame started to fill out again, and by this past spring, I had to cut him back to four pounds. He was actually getting tubby!

I like him rotund. But the other thing that the Senior Feed seems to be doing is giving him lots of energy. By that I mean, TOO MUCH ENERGY.  He's always been a bit of a bastard, but lately he's been threatening to buck if I don't do what he wants to do; and while he hasn't bucked, I'm not thrilled with his head tossing and body-bunching and tail-switching just because I don't want to turn to the left or let him run up a bank.

Today I began my morning by stacking wood. (We got two cords of wood last Friday.) Then I had breakfast and went out to ride with a couple friends. We had to change our usual route because a farmer was burning piles of almond tree trimmings on either road we take out from the ranch, and found ourselves on orchard roads we'd never taken before.

Dink was plainly stimulated by the new trail. New barking dogs, new places with almond harvesting equipment being noisy, people on quads working under the trees. It wasn't much of a problem though, until one of the riders let her horse move on into the lead.

"Stimulated" became "freakin' obnoxious" in no time flat. He began to bunch up, toss his head, and prance. When I wouldn't let him charge ahead of the other horse, he got madder and madder. Higher prancing. Shifting his hindquarters back and forth. Tossing his head trying to break my grip on the reins.

The other horses, by the time we got back to the ranch, were calm and dry. Dink was wet with sweat from his ears to his tail. I was also pretty well soaked with sweat from the effort of keeping him under control.

I know I'm going to be sore from this ride. I also know I'm going to start cutting that Senior Feed with a supplemental hay pellet that doesn't have so much jazz in it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Dynamic Duo and the Tomatoes

There's quite a bit of satisfaction in picking 25 pounds of tomatoes from your front yard. So much so that you want to take a picture of them to remember what an abundant summer you've had.

The minute I picked up my camera, Joma came running in and plopped down beside the tomatoes -- is that what they call "photobombing?"

Oh, why not. A hammy three-year-old probably is more interesting than a bunch of tomatoes, anyway. And then of course her favorite accomplice had to throw himself onto the carpet nearby, to make sure nothing dastardly was going to happen to his baby ... or maybe to make sure he was going to get some action if she was up to mischief.

Eperis is about three months shy of two years old; he's beginning to develop some sense, but Joma doesn't encourage that. It's much more fun to tackle the grandparents' bed and burrow underneath the neatly-made covers with shrieks of laughter, making the dog bite the pillows. Then the dog slithers under the blankets and Joma pokes his nose to make him bite from underneath. And the game ain't over until all the blankets and pillows are on the floor.

It's good to see them playing together. I know down the years I'll look back at this picture and laugh about how many tomatoes I picked, but mostly what I'll remember is how much fun Joma had with her dog.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fun with Corn

When our big tree fell down this past spring, I promised myself that I'd plant corn instead of grass in the ruined lawn. But when I went to plant the corn, I found that the soil was a mass of roots from the now-deceased tree. It took a lot of work to find a section of earth that I could work at all, so my idea of a whole corn field went by the wayside.

We also added three planter boxes off to the right of this picture, so my corn space was limited in that direction as well. But I couldn't let the seeds go to waste, so I planted a couple rows of Sun and Stars from Burpee Seeds, not really expecting much. After so many years of the giant eucalyptus draining the nutrients out of the soil, I was really surprised when the tiny plants sprouted.

They're not as tall as the catalog suggested, but they're taller than me, and some of the stalks are trying to make three ears of corn! We sampled an early ear, and it was long enough to cut into four pieces, and so sweetly delicious that after a bite, Joan ate all hers and mooched the second half of mine. We'll be picking some more this week.

There's a perverse streak in me that enjoys the challenge of this drought. We had a pretty little front lawn, but we didn't play by the same rules that other homeowners on the street did. No, we had to have a couple big wa-honkin eucalyptus trees blocking the view of our house. With the trees gone, how could I fly in the face of convention and conserve water? Why, put in a veggie garden, of course, with corn as a hedge!

And here are my special pets, more On Deck hybrid corn by Burpee's. By the time these pampered darlings are ready to tassel, the Sun and Stars will be all done. That should be the second week of September at the latest. I've been watering this planter by hand; I haven't got around to putting in the last line of drip system yet. Maybe in a couple weeks, when the temps drop a little.

I love my tomato plants, but I must admit that corn makes me giddy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

If That Mockingbird Don't Sing ...

... it would be because of this guy.

A few evenings ago, a family (?) of six Cooper's Hawks came sailing through the neighborhood. Amazing sight to see, loud and plaintive sound to hear. The juveniles obviously didn't want Mom and Pop to leave them all on their own, screeching their pleas to the world.

You can hear a recording of their calls here: Just scroll down the page to "Begging Calls of Chicks."

At least one of the young birds has been hanging around, doing a low fly-by each day, perching on the street-light out front or in the neighbor's sequoia trees.

In June of 1997, we woke to our first morning in this house, hearing the beautiful sound of singing birds, so different from the previous home, where the predominant morning noise was the traffic from Highway 99, one of the main arteries of traffic running north-south in Central California.

Since Young Cooper's Hawk moved into the area, we hear NO birds singing. No crows, no jays, no finches, no sparrows ... because what Cooper's Hawks eat is other birds. How awful, you might think, and indeed, some birding sites on the web advise people to take down their bird feeders until a hawk moves on to a different locale.

We're ambivalent about this. It's true that we miss the song of house finches and the company of scrub jays on the back patio, but none of us misses that blasted mockingbird who used to proclaim himself Ruler of the Block incessantly all day long, and in the middle of the night, too.

The other possible benefit of the hawk is that the jays and mockingbirds aren't gobbling up our ripening grapes for the first summer in a long, long time.

Eventually, the hawk will fly off to the river a few blocks away and hunt more fruitfully in the canopy of the trees. In the meantime, silence is golden.

Monday, July 06, 2015

My Friends, the Corn

I'm not at all fond of having my picture taken, but my delight this morning is fairly evident -- Bernie insisted on commemorating a milestone in our California garden: our first successful container-grown corn!

This is the third try for me; in 2013, I put corn in the raised boxes out in front of the house. Scrub jays watched me lovingly plant the seeds, and dug them up and ate them. What few I replanted and raised were feeble ... I used what I thought was good potting soil, but it wasn't, and there wasn't enough sustenance in it for any of my plants to thrive.

Last year, I got the good soil (Miracle Gro Potting Soil) but got bum advice (from a website that turned out to be for Back East gardeners) about ripeness, so all my poor corn cooked and shriveled in the ear in the scorching California sun.

This year, I watched those ears like the hawk that perches in my neighbor's sycamore tree waiting for her Yorkshire terrier to venture out alone, and pounced upon the swelling corn on this cool July morning. Bernie scurried off with the first two ears and cooked them up.

They were beautiful!

And a delicious breakfast, as well. The variety is "On Deck" by Burpee Seeds, and it's bred to grow in containers. The taste is sweet and delicate, and there is nothing like the bursting flavor when only a few minutes before, the corn was still on the stalk.

I grow the corn on the patio mostly because I get a kick out of sitting in between pots of lush corn plants in the evening, but I'll definitely plant this variety again next year.

Happy Corn Day!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Time for Creativity

 Last Friday I knew I needed to spend time with Lillian and art work. We had plotted to do that since school started last year, because we both felt we hadn't done enough over the summer. So while it was still cool in the morning, we opened the garage door for lovely natural lighting, and perusing my shelves, looked for inspiration.

I dragged out a sketch pad, one of many that I hoard but rarely use because of my phobia about "using up good materials on practice pieces." She immediately began to sketch, exclaiming about how much better the tooth of the paper took the pencil lines than the copy paper she usually uses; I stood at my worktable wondering what on earth I ought to do.

Shrugging, I used my pencil to make random dots on my sheet of paper. Then I connected dots with thin lines, also randomly, making sure no dot was left unconnected. The result was actually pretty cool-looking, and Lil was impressed by the idea. I myself was once again impressed with Lil's ability to bring out a creative side to my work that usually is hidden.

Taking a break from our sketches, we talked about graphic editing programs -- I use Photoshop, she uses Manga Studio, she longs for SAI. At one point, I showed her how to use the Paint Daubs filter in Photoshop (see the pic at top) to better "see" the actual colors in a picture without the brain suggesting names for the colors. Thus some of the "green" in the photo is, in reality, gray; part of the "white" of the blossoms is also gray, but a different gray.

My coloration of my sketch isn't done, but I am looking forward to playing with it some more, and using the random dots idea in a couple other ways.

And then there's writing, which needed a jump start of creativity, too...

I haven't been writing. I don't like that, it hurts me to not write, I have nightmares when I don't write, my hands want to be typing out words, and I haven't had any words coming to mind. Troubling. Am I no longer a writer? How awful!

At the beginning of May, the Piker Press vampire writer, Lydia Manx, went on hiatus from her serial fiction. Needing something to fill in the spot, I thought of my long-abandoned foodie soap opera Going Hungry -- I knew there was about 80,000 words of unedited story there, so why not brush the dander and dust off it and use it to pass the time until Lydia was ready to hammer on her stories again?

We're about nine episodes in now, and I have probably another five edited that just need illustrations; there are some flaky chapters that need some brushing up ... and then the document ends with the end of the story. Most of the middle part is in another document.

It took me several days to figure out how to find the other document, as I'd forgotten what it was named in the five years since I worked on it.

Another few days passed as I re-read it, not remembering most of it, making notes of continuity boo-boos and rambly pointless bits.

Today I reached the end of the document, the last sentence of which reads, "I've died and gone to heaven, Gloria thought, and ended the damn boring stupid story for the time being." When I read that, I laughed out loud. That was a plot twist I definitely didn't remember!

Looks like I've just put some oompf into a creative writing prompt: Finish the damn novel or look like an ass.

Yep. Time for creativity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gardening in the Time of Drought

There they are, fifteen pounds of tomatoes.

Half of them I picked yesterday, but quit when my back began aching. (I'd been out on the horse for over an hour.) The rest I got today.

We gave away about eight pounds a couple days ago, and Bernie used another eight or so making an incredibly delicious canned salsa. The salsa was so good that he could use this whole batch as far as I'm concerned. There are plenty more to come, too, depending on how bad this coming heat wave is. Sometimes it gets too hot and the fruit more or less cooks on the vine.

Only one cluster of grapes from our vine has ripened -- the rest look to be about a month away from edibility. No idea why one ripened so soon, but it was a delicious preview of coming attractions.

That many tomatoes during California's drought? you may well ask. And I will tell you in answer that the key is water management. Aside from a little square of grass in the front yard, which has two automatic lawn sprinklers on it, the entire rest of the property is on a drip system, which puts a small but adequate amount of water on individual plants.

What had been perfectly useless lawn was removed, and Bernie built planter boxes, which will eventually also be on a drip system. See the black tubing? That carries water to three small fern pines (podocarpus -- neither fern nor pine, really) and some tomatoes. Each plant has its own emitter; weeds get no water, empty dirt gets no water, sidewalk and gutter get no water.

Is it enough in high summer? Just about ... but we make up the difference from inside the house. Any time we run water, waiting for it to heat up for washing dishes or taking a shower, we collect that runoff into buckets. Some of those buckets go directly into container plants, but what is not urgently needed goes into my "well" -- a 33 gallon plastic garbage can, to bank against dry and excessively hot days.

Looks a little bit like Mars there, with no plants, but by next Spring, there will be drought-tolerant lavender, maybe a few blueberry bushes, and bark mulch to hold moisture and soften the view.

Ahh, the view. That's the back patio in the morning, more container plants, everything on drip or hand-watering, no lawn ...

... And all gorgeous. Fortunately my neighbor to the north used to live in the mountains near Santa Cruz. She's heavily invested in her urban forest, too; ground shaded by trees doesn't need as much water.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


What is not to love about growing corn in containers on your patio?

This is the 2015 planting of On Deck Burpee hybrid container corn. I sit in its shade in the mornings, admiring the curving leaves and the gentle rustling sounds they make in the early breeze.

A few aphids tried to infest it, but I just hosed them off, and I haven't seen any since. During the time of the aphids, I saw some tiny wasps hanging around the corn; some gardening advice pages suggested that some species of wasps eat the aphids, and that I shouldn't use a pesticide -- which I'm glad of, as I'm not fond of chemical solutions.

As for my tomatoes, I sampled both Super Fantastic and Rutgers, and the wild tomato that over-wintered. Not impressed by any of the three. Very bland, not up to the huge flavors of Container's Choice or Early Girl. I was particularly disappointed by the wild one, as it is loaded with fruit.

Maybe it will make a good sauce.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Oh, the Color!

There they are, the first two tomatoes.

Yes, the one on the right is a little pale, but I was not about to let my first crop fall prey to slugs or birds or whatever. Once they start to turn color, tomatoes are ripe, but it is nice to let them hang out on the counter until the color is deep and they soften to provide the richest taste.

I love tomatoes. But maybe I love tomato plants more. I think the tiny yellow blossoms are cute, and the foliage is pretty. The smell of the vines is intoxicating to me, rooted deeply in the memory of my mother's greenhouse, where she started tomatoes from seed to sell, reserving a few for her garden and mine. When I wade in and tie my tomatoes to their stakes or cages, pruning a sucker branch here or there, tickling the blossoms to make them set fruit, the green stain on my hands and arms amuses me; watching the soap and water turn greenish as I clean up afterwards makes me smile. My tomatoes and I have had a close contact.

All but a few of my plants are in the ground. Most of them are in containers. I started with three Early Girl, known for flavor and -- earliness -- added two Shady Lady, that would be the ones in the picture to the right. Of course I made sure I had two Roma plants, for Bernie's salsa endeavors.

Then I bought two Rutgers, because the literature described their flavor as "incomparable." And because they were available, and I had some space, I found a home for a Better Boy and a Super Fantastic.

A spot was reserved for a wild tomato that came up last fall and over-wintered, much to my surprise. It formed the illustration for Anna Sykora's Piker Press article, "Crazy Tomato," and I was shocked that it made it to Spring. (It's a monster, with a scary amount of fruit and tendrils spanning four feet across, btw.)

One tomato plant made it home with me after I had a fervid conversation with a man I met at the hardware store -- he gifted me with a plant called "Delicious," a plant that has ended up on the endangered list in my garden after it failed to thrive. From its isolation ward spot near the avocado tree, it looks over at yet another plant, Container's Choice, that has a knack for vigorous growth and hiding ripe tomatoes under it's foliage.

And I was done with buying tomatoes at that point, especially since I found another wild tomato growing up near the Better Boy and Super Fantastic, the only non-container plants in the bunch.

Until the supermarket marked down its veggies, and I found a pony-pack of Beefsteak tomatoes whimpering at me. I bought a couple giant terracotta pots and another cage...

Day before yesterday, Bernie and I held a four-way taste test of ripe tomatoes from Early Girl, Shady Lady, Container's Choice, and Better Boy. Those are the cut ones in the middle, minus the Container's Choice, which was my favorite, and I ate it all before I thought to take a picture. Bernie's favorite was Early Girl. Then he made salsa from all the others.

Next day I picked another 16 tomatoes.

Today, Bernie is researching tomato paste and pizza sauce recipes.

I myself am waiting to find out what Beefsteak, Rutgers, and Super-Fantastic taste like.

And the wild ones. I love summer tomato season.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

May? Maybe May? May I Maybe Make a May Entry?

I have a file folder on my computer bookmarks called "Dailies." In it are links to, (of course!) Rich Burlew's always entertaining Order of the Stick, various newspapers around the country, and blogs I follow. Sadly, not one of those blogs are updated more than once every few months -- some of them haven't been updated for over a year now. It's like watching dust collect on dress pants hanging in the closet -- is there even any point in holding on to those nice slacks if they're never used? But you keep them, because just maybe...

Well, then there's me, and this blog.

Sometimes I forget why I made this blog in the first place. It was just going to be a place to ramble if I wanted to ramble on about something, rant if I felt like a rant was in order, talk about my life and my gardens and pets. How many mornings have I awakened to the sight of the first morning light hitting the shrimp plant on the patio outside my bedroom and wanted to share how beautiful it is -- and then got up and made tea and folded laundry instead?

Sinking into the mundane, falling silent and somnolent is so easy. Celebrating the glory and wonder of creation requires some effort: you can't dance if you're lying on the floor eating potato chips; you can't sing if your mouth is full of potato chips; you shouldn't attempt to work with watercolors or oils or pastels if your hands are covered with potato chip crumbs.

Oh, potato chips are fine, and just about necessary if you're having friends over for snacks, but you get my drift. Potato chips instead of creativity will just make you fat, figuratively speaking.

Enough about chips. In point of fact, one of the things that has kept me from this blog is that Howie is gone, and it's torture to go back and read his obituary post, and more torture not to. I miss him so much, our long-accustomed games together, the sweet smell of his soft fur, his greeting me gently when I would open my eyes in the morning. He was simply the best dog I've ever, ever met.

And now, back to the laundry.

Friday, April 10, 2015

And How Was Lent in 2015?

Better than 2014!

Last year I was sick for all of Lent -- the kind of humbling you really don't want to say anything holy about.

This year, the flu shot from last autumn worked; I did not catch so much as a sniffle, for which I am truly thankful. And I went into Lent prepared with a Lenten resolve: Not To Be So Spiritually Lazy.

I subscribe to this great publication, Magnificat, which has morning and evening prayers, a daily meditation, the readings from the Mass of the day, and inspiring stories and essays. This year, I decided to use that prayer guide as a means to put prayer in its proper context.

What is the proper context for prayer? Because God is All in All, Creator of Matter and Energy and Time, and because God is aware of all his creations, I believe there is nothing more important in our lives than prayer -- communication with God.

As God holds all of Time in His presence, when I communicate with God, I communicate as well with everything else. Maybe it's a little like being in a choir: perhaps your voice doesn't stand out -- but then, in a choir you don't want to overshadow the other singers, just make a greater music with them; perhaps your voice isn't as good as the clear sopranos who carry the main melody, -- but your voice is still a contribution. The "music" reaches out to the whole audience -- some of whom are checking their cell phones for Tweets, some of whom have fallen asleep, some who have eyes on their companions, wondering if they still love them, if they're wearing underwear, if they're picking up the tab for dinner after; some are checking their watches to see how much time they still have to spend listening to the music.

The thing is, while I commune in prayer, it doesn't matter if no one or nothing else seems to be impressed, or hear me. The communication itself is its own validation.

Because the One who always hears, always listens, always whispers back ... is God Most High.

It was a good Lent. Upon awakening, I would tell myself every day that there is nothing I can do that is of more importance than prayer ... and by the end of Lent, I could see that that was true.

Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Art in the Revamped Studio

Some months ago, Alex and Lil challenged me to take part in their latest art project: Create your own plant (image). I more or less blew it off, because winter is mighty cold in the studio, and besides, the studio had become so cluttered with OPJ (Other People's Junk) that I didn't want to be out there.

Bernie came to the rescue and built me a mighty rack of shelving -- beautiful and spacious -- and now there is little clutter (although the OPJ still tries to migrate to any open work surface) so that it is a pleasure to work out there again.

Weather being shamefully clement, I spent an evening at my workdesk and built my imaginary plant: A kind of lichen that could help transform the face of Mars.

Here is my lichen, tiny fronds greeting the pale light of a Martian sunrise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Joan, Lil, and Dink

Lillian rides Dink, who is a good-looking 25 years old this year, while Joan watches from the safety of the round corral.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


This was in my spam email folder the other day, and I must say, I am honored.


"I am Mr Hosni Mubarak   former leader of Egyptian   am  currently  released from  prison charges of complicity resulting from political turmoil during the 2011  the government has seized everything i have here and prevent us from traveling out of Egypt because  the released is conditional.

"As a result of this, I need somebody outside Egypt to represent my interest to manage our reserved funds value (25,000,000.00 U.SD) in long-term business venture especially in public and private business (including real estate investment,

"I am willing to negotiate with you how much I will offer you to handle this for me after your acceptance. And all needed to proceed the legality and movement of the (25,000,000.00 U.SD) shall or will be duly obtained in due course.

"Yours Faithfully,

"Mr Hosni Mubarak"

Good thing he's faithful or I would have nothing to do with him.