Monday, December 31, 2012

Counting Down...

Only a few hours left and 2012 is over...forever.  Even though it means time is inexorably moving on and I'm not getting any younger, it also means a new year filled with endless possibilities where anything can happen--an exciting, yet slightly scary awareness.

So, I've been thinking today about my 52 Weeks plan, and already have six things in mind that I've either meant to do or want to do.  It's an odd, eclectic half dozen adventures, and no, I'm not telling until I do each one, but then you'll be the first to know...

Here's a cool thing:  A quick, simple way to feel refreshed that works like a magic trick...

Rub your hands together really vigorously until they feel toasty, then cup them over your closed eyes for 10 seconds or so.  During those seconds, breathe deep and exhale a few times.  Applying the gentle heat and energy of your hands to your eyes counteracts the tired feeling.  Try it...

Thanks everyone for stopping by this year, reading my words, admiring my photos, leaving comments now and again.  I hope we'll stay neighbors, chatting over the fence in our cyber cul-de-sac in the future.  

I wish you all a wonderful 2013, filled with love and laughter and joy. 

Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Room With a View...

I talk to Jan (BFF) on Sundays.  Today we're mulling over what's happened since last week's phone call; we commiserate about men, goofy dogs, the sad and sorry state of the world, and what I'm currently writing.  Along the way, we laugh, feel bad, perk up and laugh some more.  We could take this act on the road, it's so familiar and comforting.

As we're talking, I wander about the house doing easy chores, like watering the plants, start the laundry, make a smoothie, load the dishwasher...whatever I can do that only takes one hand.  So, as I'm dinking, I happen to glance out one of the front room windows that overlooks the road and the ol' dead oak tree on the other side.  I stop, squint, move closer and stare.  Jan asks me what's wrong as I've stopped talking in mid-sentence.  "It's the hawk," I whisper, as if the bird could hear me and fly off.

"Quick!" she yells, "Get your camera!"

This is the third time in as many weeks the hawk has either appeared or flown around the house while I've been talking to her.  I have yet to get a solid shot of the guy.  I grab the camera and dash to the den window which has an unobstructed view of the tree.

"Is he still there?"

"Yeah," I mutter, "though I'm having a hard time holding the phone and the camera--"

"Put down the damn phone!"

I drop the phone to the desk, but now I'm having trouble focusing the telephoto because I'm laughing at the tiny little voice wafting up from my phone as Jan keeps asking me questions.  "Shut up," I hiss, then we both start laughing harder.  Pathetic really.  If I worked for Nat Geo, I could never take her with me on assignments.

Still.  Here are three fairly good photos of the elusive Red tailed Hawk.  He is not only a very handsome fellow, but huge.  Like eagle-sized huge.  If you click on the last two shots, look at the color of those eyes.  Wow.  I think I'm in love...

Later, pictures taken, Jan asks me about New Year's resolutions, but I mention that instead I'm attempting The 52 Weeks idea.  Now we've decided to do it together.  Well, not do the same things, but do one thing each week, then on Sundays we can tell what we did.  Since we both live in very small towns, there will definitely be challenges; there's only so much going on, after all.

Though, maybe that will be half the fun...??

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Haiku Heights 202...New

Buried treasure sleeps
Spring awakens budding life
Bright golden smiles
New was the prompt this week at Haiku Heights.  I have always loved the way daffodils are planted in Scotland, in massive clumps buried in lawns and gardens, popping up willy nilly every Spring like new-found gems.  I took this photo a few years back of the kirk (church) down the street from our house in Edinburgh.  This is just a small portion of the daffodils that covered the area in riotous profusion.  So beautiful...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Slightly Odd Day...

It started nice and early with the electricity going off, for no reason I could figure.  I had just poured my first cup of coffee, when suddenly everything went dark.  All the utilities are underground, the weather was overcast,  but no wind or rain, so I don't know what happened--still don't.  The furnace had barely come on, so the house was cold and getting colder by the minute, then the two hard-wired fire alarms started to alternate between an annoying chirp and an ear-splitting screech, which sent Max into I'm-Gonna-Die mode.  The poor guy, he runs down one hallway to hide in the den, and the alarm bleats; he freaks, runs down the other hallway just as that alarm does the shrieking thing.  Back and forth he ran, until I finally put him in the back bathroom, far from the turmoil before he had a heart attack.

[And speaking of those blasted fire alarms.  Why would anyone have alarms that were wired into the electrical system?  So, your electricity goes out, you're blissfully asleep, and the house catches fire.  What kind of plan is that??  Alan and I installed battery-operated ones, of course, but who knew the electric ones would come to life like hungry vampires?]

Half an hour later, just as I'm wondering how to open my (electric) garage door so I can get the three of us out of the house and into a warm car, the lights are magically restored.  I quickly open the garage, and we head down the mountain to the park.

The soccer park is totally empty, which means the boys can have a little off-leash time, and I'm the only car in the whole huge parking lot.  As I start to open the back door to let the dogs out, this gnarly ol' pickup truck comes toward me, and parks about three spaces a lot with dozens of empty spots.  Crap.  Ozzy is bouncing up and down, eager to get going, but I'm not liking this scenario, so I make him wait while I wonder what's up with this guy.

He lumbers out of the truck, and right behind him two pit bulls come flying.  Double crap.  Neither dog is wearing a collar, which means no leash, though right off the bat it's pretty clear this isn't a leash-type guy anyway.  There's no frigging way I'm letting my two snacks out of the car now.  Resigned, I get back in and drive away, Ozzy whining the whole time.  We ended up at a different park, very muddy and boggy, but the boys didn't care.

Back home, I make a coffee, then call Mom for my usual Friday catch-up.  She wants to make scones, and has a recipe I sent her from Scotland, but the butter amount is too smudged to read, so she asks me how much.  Bear in mind I sent her this recipe in 2003; like I remember how much butter?  I start going through my cookbooks, then my two overflowing recipe boxes, and though I find several scone variations, I'm not finding the one that matches the one she has.  Eventually, comparing all the versions, I make a judgment call on the flour to butter ratio.  By this time I'm wanting some scones myself, so when we hang up, I whip up a small batch of eight.

When I take them out of the oven, 20 minutes later, they look like crackers.  Flatter than pancakes.  WTF?  I'm dumbfounded.  I've made scones dozens of times.  Grumpy, still trying to figure what's gone wrong, while putting the self-raising flour back into its container...I notice the expiration date says January, 2011.  Two years, people.  Two.

Goes to show a) I don't often use self-raising flour, and b) they really mean it on that expiration date.

I'm having Santa Fe soup tonight for dinner, and these scone crackers will taste great with the spicy flavor of the soup.  They're a bit crispy on the outside, and soft in the middle; I'm thinking of sprinkling a little Parmesan on top, then giving them a quick broil.  And hey, I might have just invented an entirely new snack cracker.

Though, I still want a scone.  Too bad I don't have any flour...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

One Down...One To Go...

Christmas done and dusted for another year.  I had a very pleasant day, just the boys and me.  We took a nice long, late morning walk, then I did some writing, reading, and made a really great dinner later in the afternoon.  It was a quiet, cozy day, which was just fine.

So, now there's only New Year's left, and we can call it 'game over' for 2012.  Considering what kind of year it's been, it will be good to see the backside of it.

As always, I have high hopes when a new year starts.  I try to keep thinking the glass is at least half full for as long as I can, and depending on outside influences, sometimes I can actually maintain a positive attitude clear into February.  Just kidding.  Mostly.

Here's another thing: I don't do resolutions.  Setting myself up to fail isn't how I like to do things.  Although, this year I am going to try something.  I was reading a review on a book called, The 52 Weeks, by Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin (out in 2013).  The premise is to try a new thing, once a week, for a year.  It doesn't have to be hard or complicated: cooking something new, going somewhere different, talking to a stranger, learning how to waltz.  The point is to expand your horizons, step out of the familiar, and have some fun in the process.

So, that's my big plan for 2013.  No resolutions, just possibly some fun experiences.  And if you think about it, that's only 52 things in the whole year.  Surely I can find 52 new things to try.  Right?  Right.

You know I'll be posting about this--weekly, if all goes well.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Coffee, With a Side of Perky

So, Mom and I are talking yesterday.  Chit chat, catch-up, nothing big, when suddenly she bursts out laughing.  For a few seconds there she can't stop long enough to tell me what's so funny.  Finally, still breathless, she asks me if I've seen the television commercial about the woman buying her kid a big doll house.  I guffaw.  "The one with the too-perky sales person?"  And we're off, both of us howling, stomachs aching, tears streaming.  I manage to gasp out, "Redwoods, the drive-thru coffee place..." 

Here, let me explain...
A few years ago, when Alan and I first came to America, we stayed at my mother's house for a bit.  One day, we decided to take a road trip, so the three of us piled into the car and drove south to the Redwoods, a place I wanted Alan to see.  It was a beautiful drive, not even two hours from Mom's, through ancient forests and winding mountain roads.  We do the northern section of the Redwoods--it would take more time and involve hiking to see the whole park, something Mom can't do.  In the afternoon, before heading back, we stop in this small town on the California coast to have lunch.  Can't decide where to eat, so I suggest we get some coffee, and we can ask a local where a good place might be.
We pull up to the little drive-thru coffee kiosk and before I've even started to lower my window, this girl bounces forward--literally--and chirps out the most manically cheerful "Hello!!!!!!  What wonderful drink can I get for you today?" that I've ever heard.  It's so over the top, I'm startled for a moment, completely taken aback.
I'm driving, Mom's in the passenger seat, Alan's in the back.  I turn to Mom with a look of horror on my face.  She takes one look at me and bites her lip to keep from laughing.  I try to act like an adult, but it's hard.  Remaining calm, I ask what she and Alan want, then tell the girl, who exuberantly says, "Excellent choices!!!!!!!" and again bounces to the coffee machine like she's got tennis balls glued to her feet.
"Oh god," I mutter to Mom.  She starts to laugh.  I tell her to stop because I'm hanging by a thread.  Right then the girl comes to the window and tries to talk us into having "Yummy whipped cream" on our coffees.  I tell her no thanks.  She does this pout thing that makes my mother snort, and again tries to sell the whipped cream.  Jokingly, I say, "Do you get a commission on the whipped cream?"  Blankly, she looks at me.  Mom is eating the sleeve on her sweater, and I'm trying, so, so hard, to be nice.
I tell her to please forget the extras, we just want coffee because we're going to lunch, then take the segue by asking if she knows a good place to eat.  A very, very big mistake.  Miss Perky totally forgets our coffees, and proceeds to give us a complete menu rundown on each and every restaurant, bar and fast food joint in town.  Thank all the gods in this world and the next it was a small town.  She bounced, she giggled, she dithered, she wandered, and I'm sure there were at least two more blank moments.  At one point I mumbled under my breath that I wanted whatever drugs she was having.

At long last, unable to stand it, I (politely) interrupt, remind her about our drinks, then as I'm pulling away, she shouts after us, "Have a super wonderful day!!!!!!"  When I get onto the highway, Mom commends me for not leaping through the window and strangling the girl, knowing my threshold is extremely low for mindless perkiness.  As we drive away, I start talking all chirpy and goofy, then reiterate that I really should have ordered whatever kind of coffee the employees drink because no one is naturally that cheery.  The three of us lose it at this point and I have to pull the car to the side of the road because I can't see to drive from laughing.
So yesterday...

In the commercial, as the woman leaves with her Christmas doll house, the clerk bounces behind the counter and says soooo cheerfully, "Have a super sparkly day!!!!!!!!!!"  I tell Mom it has to be the coffee girl's sister.  We crack up again.  It was the best laugh I've had in ages.  Mom said every time she sees the ad, she thinks about that road trip.

As we finished our phone call, Mom and I tried to beat each other to the punch, but ended up saying it at the same time.   We were both laughing as we hung up, "Have a super sparkly day!!!!!" echoing in our heads.  

I think it's just become the new goodbye.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Haiku Heights 201...Snow

Drifting flakes fall soft
Winter homes silent and cold
Snowbirds have flown south
[Prompt this week from Haiku Heights.  I took this photo last year of the birdhouse in my back garden.  The image also made me think of all the houses left behind when, every year, 'snowbirds' head to warmer climes in their RVs.]

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Day Is It...??

Tomorrow, December 21st, the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice.  How cool, because now it's straight uphill, each day growing just a tiny bit longer and brighter as we slog through January--endless, bleak January--then February, March, until suddenly we notice those tell-tale signs of Spring, see those little buds poking up through snow, mud, or dirt.

I don't mind hunkering down for a few months, slowing the pace.  With miserable, bad weather, there are valid reasons to stay home, wear cozy warm clothes, read or nap on a blustery Sunday afternoon, snuggle on the couch to watch old movies under a quilt.   Ah, the hidden joys of Winter...

Now, about those strange folk who don't see tomorrow as the Winter Solstice, but instead think the world will end because of a very misunderstood and badly interpreted Mayan tablet.  I don't know what to say.  I've written before on my complete bafflement on this issue, so won't go into it again, because I just don't get it.  I really don't.  But, each to his own, I guess.  And if tomorrow the world implodes?  Well, I'll be the first to say, "oops."

I doubt I'll have to say that however, because here's what I really think:

Happy Winter Solstice everyone...

Heap on more wood--the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.
                                                                                 -- Sir Walter Scott

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Words, Wind and Wee Dogs

In case no one noticed, I just have to point out that I finished the 2012 Reading Challenge!!  Totally cool that I actually managed to finish something this year.  Okay, I know that's not really true, I finish stuff all the time, but after bailing on NaNo and feeling a bit like a loser, I really wanted to nail this one.
And hey, if you're wondering: I'm loving my Lemon Cheesecake cookies...though they don't look like something you would take to a Christmas Cookie Exchange, do they?  Still, if you close your eyes and take a bite, they taste exactly like cheesecake.  The base is a graham cracker crust-like mixture, then the dollop in the middle is the cheesecake stuff.  So.  Who cares what they look like as long as they're tasty...right??

I'm having fun with the Library story on blog two.  Course, I wrote too much for a single post, I think, so divided Chapter One into two parts, even though in an actual book, 2,300 words is just about right for a chapter.  Oh well, it's a blog, not a book.
Weather is bitterly cold, and again with the wind!  When we walked to get the mail this afternoon, a very strong gust blew up the mountain and actually rolled wee Ozzy across the road!  He was not a happy boy and looked at me like it was my fault, which made me laugh.  After I plucked all the road debris off him, I carried him for a bit just to soothe his ruffled feelings.  It can't be good to only weight as much as a bag of flour when it's really blustery.
Still.  He got a ride out of the deal...I just got numbed fingers and frozen earlobes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Seriously? You Call That a Storm?

Some good snow overnight, though right now at 3:00pm it's so sunny I'm nearly blind from the glare beaming through the front windows, and all the beautful fluffy white is gone.  What kind of crap storm was that?  I was truly hoping for a couple of gnarly snow days, but though the sky is churning with black clouds, they aren't coming anywhere in my direction.  Nuts...

I finished the new blog and the prologue, but haven't officially published either.  I'm not totally pleased with it, but hope once I get into the plot, the next installment will be more interesting.  Uh huh.  This whole idea could be one big charley foxtrot, but I'll run with it for now. 

Here's the link, if anyone's curious:

And now that I've linked it, I guess I'd better go publish the stuff, huh?  Then I'm off to make some Lemon Cheesecake Cookies.  I saw this recipe on a Food Network show the other day and hopefully it will be as easy for me to bake as it was for the TV person. 

Okay, I know.  Famous last words...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Storms Aplenty

Last night I thought the house was going to blow off the mountain.  So did the boys.  Truly strong winds, branches falling, debris crashing into the windows, lost internet and television, and a long stretch with constantly flickering lights that made me put out flashlights and candles all over the house.  We went to bed earlier than usual, though none of us could settle very well, what with the weird noises and the wind wailing like a banshee 'round the corners of the house.  A bad storm is a good time to be glad I have a Kindle.  I was under my heavy blankets, a dog on either side, and a book to read that didn't require electricity, candles or even my trusty flashlight.

Then this morning we woke to torrential rains, some of the blackest clouds I have ever seen, and my Christmas wreath in the bushes across the road.  It's a bit the worse for wear, but I put it back up anyway, though this will likely be the last year, poor beat up old thing.

Against my better judgment, I took the boys down the mountain to the park later in the morning.  We managed to get about ten minutes into a very soggy walk when the skies burst open and the rain took 'downpour' to a whole new level.  I thought Ozzy was going to wash away, so we all turned tail and ran back to the car.  It didn't escape my notice that we were the only dopes ones out there either. 

So, heading back home in wet coats (them) and drenched clothes (me), the car smelling like damp dog and the bag of poop in my pocket that I forgot to toss in my haste to get back to the car.  And believe me, with the heat on and in the confined space of the Blazer, I was sorely tempted more than once to throw the bag out the window, but I didn't.  I waited--then leaped out of the car and hit the garbage can the second I was in the garage.  Who knew those little bags were so...thin?

This afternoon I worked on the prologue to the story I'm writing for the new blog, while snow and wind raged outside.  There's something so comforting about being inside when the weather is foul.  We walked to the mailbox just before it got dark, which I was sorry about because a) the damn postman was late again so no mail, and b) the temperature was down into the low 30s and dropping with every step.  Guess the weather folks are right for a change: we're supposed to be getting a snowstorm tonight that will carry on into Wednesday.

Being housebound for a day or two might be just what I need to finish #75, the last book in my 2012 Reading Challenge; post the new blog and start the serial story; make some Christmas cookies...and stay indoors warm and cozy.  I've got food, wine, whiskey and a couple pals to keep me company.

Yeah...that works for me.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Snow and Sorrow

It snowed for an hour or so first thing this morning, though didn't stick.   There were just tiny flakes, so ethereal they seemed to float rather than actually fall. Still, it was snow.

In the photo above you can't see the mountains behind the ridges, but every now and then the clouds shift and there's a little glimpse of the real snowfall.

I've been working on building another blog, one that is just my stories, separate from my daily derrings-do on this site.  I have an idea about a novella, or maybe just a long, short story (and there's an oxymoron if I ever wrote one), though everything--the new blog, my thoughts, the plot--are in the early stages.

Since the horrors of yesterday, I have been avoiding the internet, and the television.  I cried for the poor wee babies who perished, and the families who will never recover, but the constant media bombardment is too much for me.  Even trying to get onto my blog just now, I couldn't avoid the screaming headlines.

And I'm not going to soapbox here, but I have to say one thing:  Besides addressing gun regulation--or more specifically the lack thereof--I think this country should also seriously begin focusing on the other, hopelessly overlooked issue of mental illness.  It's not just the gun, it's the mind behind the trigger.

That's all.  Snow and sorrow.  What a world we live in...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa's Lap

She hesitantly made her way forward, occasionally jostled by children both in front and behind her in the long line that meandered toward Santa.

Nervous, she kept her eyes on the jolly bearded man as he deftly lifted child after child onto his lap.  He seemed to listen carefully, head tilted, as each one told him what they wanted for Christmas.  His cheerful elf gave every child a large candy cane as they were helped off the platform, sending them on their way with happy smiles.

When her turn came, she balked and started to turn away, but Santa laughed and patted his knee, a distinct twinkle in his eye.

When she was perched on his lap,  he asked, “And what can Santa get you for Christmas, my dear?”

“I really just want a photo of me sitting on your lap,” she said.  “I thought it would be a really funny Christmas present for my parents.”

“I’m sure they’ll love it.”  He faced forward, murmuring, “I know I am.”  As she narrowed her eyes at him, he grinned, then brightly said, “Smile at the camera!”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ramblings Amidst Rainbows

Today is a date that will not be seen again for a century.  12-12-12.  What a nice roundness to the numbers, and so easy to remember if you got married today, as hundreds of couples did.

So, could someone then explain to me why these simple, innocuous little digits mean The End--the precursor, the imminent slide down the slippery slope, the demise of civilization as we know it?  Why?  Anyone out there who can tell me why doom-and-gloomers actually want to believe this?

It's just a series of numbers, people!!  Instead of looking for the sign of the Apocalypse, why aren't folks glad to be alive, thankful to be living on our beautiful planet, appreciating the uniqueness of a date that will not be seen by most of us ever again.

Every year since we hit the 21st century, I've loved the symmetry of 1-1-1, 2-2-2, etc., and now we've arrived at the last of them.  Maybe the babies born today will be celebrating their 100th birthdays on the next 12-12-12.  Imagine how things will have changed, what advances there surely will have been in medicine, science, technology.  Hopefully, war will be obsolete, and prejudice, and divisive political parties.

I would rather look positively ahead to the future, then wait with fear and grim anticipation for The End.  Wouldn't you?


This morning when I opened the blinds, the sun was shining along one of the ridges, though the mist was thick in the hollows.  If you click on the photo, you can see a small part of the valley, to the right, in another little spot of sun...

The rains have stopped--for the moment, so the boys and I went to a different part of the park to walk along the river this morning.  I was startled to see how much damage the floods of last week did to the bank. 

Last month I was standing next to that large tree looking out at the river.  Now there's nothing to stand on, and look at the poor little tree.  Sadly, this is just December; the real floods don't happen until Spring.  At this rate, there won't be much of the bank left for the sapling to cling to...

With the threat of Armageddon (or is it the Apocalypse?  Who can keep up...), I happened to glance outside a moment ago...

Seriously.  I'm going for beauty over destruction.  Care to join me?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Magpie Tales 147...The Journey

The map of life
etched onto every
History written in
latitude and longitude across
I love the prompt from Magpie Tales this week.  I was mesmerized by the map, settling like a cloak over the woman's body.  What a great photograph...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mountain Life

Yesterday, while on the phone talking to my mother, I happened to look out the front windows--the same windows that overlook the White Oak tree I photographed the other day--and I nearly dropped the phone.  The biggest hawk ever was perched on a branch of that tree, staring right at the house. 

I told Mom I would call her back, grabbed the camera, then discreetly tried to slide the telephoto between slats of the Venetian blinds, focus, and manage to get a clear shot, all without alerting the hawk. 

Right.  A bird that can spot a field mouse from space, and he's not going to see me jostling the blinds or poking a camera in his direction from across the road.   And, of course, the second I get everything lined up--and through the telephoto, this guy was seriously scary and as large as a bald eagle--he spreads his enormous wings and flies off.  I got nothing.  Just a bare branch with nary a feather to be seen.  I kept looking throughout the day, hoping, but he didn't come back.

Then this morning as I drive around the bend toward the house after walking the boys, there's a large buck strolling casually down the road.  It's the Head of the Herd--all the does and fawns up here are his--and he wasn't in the least inclined to move off the road; this is his territory and he makes it very clear. 

Once, last year, he bellowed at me when I was out back raking leaves--guess he thought I was too close to the familia.  I wasn't even aware he was there in the woods, but I sure got his message loud and clear. 

I don't know where he hangs out during the Summer months, though there are plenty of fawns around so I know he keeps...ahem...busy.  Around this time of year he shows up and struts around just in case there are any interlopers or young bucks foolish enough to challenge him. 

So, I quickly parked the car, then dashed inside for the camera and went out on the front deck just as he walked into the bushes beside the drive.  I barely had time to get one decent shot before he leaped over the deer fence as if it were no more bother than stepping onto a city curb.

Here's my semi-crappy photo, nothing compared to how he looked meandering along in the middle of the road as if everything on the mountain belonged solely to him.  He's a handsome guy, isn't he?  And with that impressive headgear, it's no wonder he has such a nice big harem...

Now, if I can just avoid any more wildlife safari stuff for the rest of the weekend, I should be able to finish my last handful of Christmas cards, then get back to my latest book.  I am so close to the end of my 2012 Reading Challenge--only 2-1/2 books away from reaching my objective--and since I bailed on NaNo, I'm definitely completing this goal.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's Never Dull...

My wee boy, Max
This morning the weather was damp and soggy from last night's rain, but by the time the boys and I got down the mountain there were actually little glimmers of sun peeking through the clouds.  Because our usual route through the soccer field park is underwater from the significant flooding we're having right now, and the main field is a swamp, I took a longer trail that skirts the entire complex.  Some parts were still really muddy and slippery, but it was doable.
About halfway around there's a smaller parking area and a one-way-only exit.  As we meander past the lot, heading for the paved path along the river, this big blue van suddenly swerves off the road and drives into the lot going the wrong way.  WTF?  The dogs are off-leash as there isn't a soul in sight, or for that matter in the whole park--a disturbing fact I register as the van comes to a stop not too far from where I'm standing.
Funny how a dozen nefarious plots run through your mind in an instant.
I call the boys to me, and for once they obey immediately, but before I can leash them up, the sliding van door flies open and four teenage girls come tumbling out, followed by three guys, and they all head straight for me.  Well holy crap, what is this now?
One girl, very cute with wild, long red hair, smiles as she stops in front of me.  I'm taller, bigger, probably way meaner...yeah, I can probably at least take her, I'm thinking.  "I hate to bother you," she says, "but we're on a scavenger hunt for school," and now I see a woman climbing out of the van from behind the wheel, an adult who gives me a friendly smile and a wave.
"Okay," I say, making it a question of sorts as I dial down my inner Xena.
She actually blushes, turns to another girl who has a camera, and says, "I can't say it!"  All the kids start laughing and now they're in a half-circle in front of me.
"What's going on?" I ask.
Red turns to me and says, face nearly as bright as her hair, "I have to propose to a dog!"
I blink as all visions of my imminent demise waft away, then burst out laughing.  "Seriously?"
The girl with the camera is giggling as one of the boys waves a long list on a sheet of paper.  Grinning, he says, "Number 7."
"Okay then," I grin back, "your best bet is Max.  Ozzy won't come close, but Max will run off to Vegas with you if you give him any attention at all."
Just saying his name brings the Love Puppy over and he immediately goes from kid to kid looking for some action.  Red kneels down, and before she can even call him over, Max is wiggling and squirming and practically in her lap as she scratches behind his ears. Camera Girl takes several shots, then one of the other girls says, "You have to say the words."
Truly blushing now, Red leans toward Max and whispers, "Will you marry me?"  And leave it to Max, I swear he grins, then licks the end of her nose just as Camera Girl gets the last shot.  It was hilarious.  Everyone's laughing, then with profuse thank yous tossed over shoulders, they all jump back in the van and a couple of minutes later, the kids, the van, and Max's girl are just a memory.
"Sorry buddy," I say to Max, "some things just aren't meant to last."  I bend and give him a good scratch.  He looks up at me, wags his tail, then dashes down the path looking for squirrels, Ozzy on his heels.
Who knew when we left the house this morning that Max would get engaged, then get dumped, all in a matter of moments.  Good thing he could care less, though I bet his ex-fianc√© never forgets him...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tea and Trees...

It's been raining heavily for days now, and though I'm not complaining, it is a bit hard to get the timing right for dog walking.  And honestly, I lose my patience when I haul the three of us down the mountain to the flooded and boggy park, get ready to walk (phone? check; leashes? check; poop bags? check; umbrella? check), then the rain starts and the dogs refuse to get out of the car.  Somewhere along the line things got seriously twisted where being the human means nothing.

So, this morning I'm just heading down the driveway for the walk.  On one side of the car it's white, fluffy clouds and sunshine.  On the other it's dark and gloomy, sprinkles of rain just beginning to dot the windshield.  I sit in the car, debating with myself.  Stay or go, stay or go.

While I'm thinking, my eyes suddenly focus on the gnarly old oak across the road.  I look at this tree every day--it's right out the window where I sit at the table on the laptop--but today, in the approaching squall, it looks particularly sinister.  I park the car, get out and take a few shots...

What makes branches grow so kinked and convoluted?  All the White Oaks up here look like this, with dark, moss-laden limbs and crooked joints.

Then I turned the other way, and took this photo: just the tops of my Birch trees against the clouds and blue sky.  These bad boys are so tall, I would have to walk a ways up the road to get the full height in a photo.  At certain times in the year (Summer green/Fall gold), I can see them on the mountain if I'm down in the valley; I might not be able to see the house, but I can always spot my trees.

And speaking of the trees:  I spent some serious time working outside on Sunday and Monday, trying to clean the millions of oak and birch leaves off the decks and out of the yard.  It was brutal, cold and miserable work, but after hours of raking moaning, hauling crying, sweeping cursing, I got it done.  Late Monday night we had another freakishly strong wind/rain storm.  Tuesday I opened the blinds and the entire front and back were covered in oak and birch leaves. 

See how many leaves are left on the trees in the photo above?  I'm calling that compost and moving on...

Today my plan was to write my Christmas cards, though I seem to have dinked the afternoon away with one thing and another, including brewing myself a strange cup of tea.  These leaves supposedly make the most complex Chinese tea because of the length in the aging process.  Once steeped, the tea is very dark red, and tastes...sort of...uh.  Let me take another sip.  Nope.  Still indescribable, though I'll go with kind of musty, and earthy, like a strong mushroomy broth.

This won't become my daily tea, for sure, but it's supposed to be good for the blood, and who knows, maybe the taste is an acquired one and I might someday love that moldy dirt flavor.  However, in the meantime, I've got to get on with writing my cards...

...right after I go brush my teeth and gargle.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Being a Memoirist

Over the weekend I read an interview in the December issue of The Writer's Chronicle, with Mary Karr, professor, poet and memoirist (of three books that chronicle her life: The Liars' Club, Cherry, and Lit).  It was a compelling article, and like her books, she didn't hold back on revelations about her journey.  She calls a stint in a mental hospital, her "nervous breakthrough."  I couldn't help laughing at the humor, mostly directed at herself.

And curiously, when did autobiography morph into memoirist?  I much prefer the latter, though can't help wondering when the change occurred.  Having looked up both words, I'm at a loss to understand the difference, though I suppose it really doesn't matter, the objective being a life told by the person who lived it. 

After reading the article, I went back to one sentence in particular that struck me:

"A memoir is not an act of history; it's an act of memory, and in that sense it's corrupt."

Oh man, I totally understand that sentence. 

Here's a personal example of corrupted memory:  There's an ongoing debate between my sister and I, and Mom about an event in our teen years.  During one summer, my sister went to this church camp thing when she was in junior high; I was in high school and wouldn't have gone to a camp, church or otherwise, for any reason under the sun.  Mom insists--vehemently--that I was the one at the camp, no matter that my sister can recite chapter and verse, and sing the hymns.  Why my mother--who should know which one of her daughters would have actually attended such a camp--persists in thinking it was me, is beyond understanding.

Mom's memory is corrupt.  (And if you're reading this Mom?  I did not go to that blasted church camp!!!)

Can anyone truly remember details of their past?  I could come close, perhaps.  I have many journals to use as refreshers--though even what I wrote is subjective and based on my age, my mood, my circumstances.  Still, my memory/recall is functional and I can bring back conversations, incidents, journeys, emotions.  However, if the recollection isn't precisely exactly unerringly perfect, does that change the reality of the event?  Turn fact into fiction?

I think intent is key here.  If I intend to deceive, or purposefully make something up, that's fiction plain and simple.  But when I write about an episode in my life, pulling it from the memory banks to relate it as authentically as I can, my goal is to share a fragment of truth as I know it.  And frankly, my actual life stories are better than anything I could invent anyway.

So, is there a point to this post?  Maybe.  It's interesting, after all, to troll through our memories, recall past events, tell our tales.  And though we should strive to be as faithful to the facts as possible--unless we're writing fiction--we probably ought to stop every now and then to ponder how accurate those facts truly are. 

Just don't ask my mother...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Haiku Heights 198...Storm

Early morning light
Softly offers Winter’s gift
Beauty shaped by storm
[The prompt at Heiku Heights this week was Storm.  I took this photograph last February after a wild period of relentless snow.  On the third morning, I opened the blinds and instead of swirling snow, there was just the silent, still beauty of weak sunlight behind the snow-covered branches of my Birch tree.]

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wonderfully Wretched Day...

The weather is compellingly horrible today...and I just love it.  There's an edgy, sort of scary, excitement when the thunder rolls, and the wind rages, bending the gnarled branches of the old oaks with creaks and groans, while the graceful limbs of the birch dance and sway.

As it got darker and more ominous into the late afternoon yesterday, I walked the boys down the road to collect the mail before the storm hit.  When we got back to the house, the view over the valley was very dramatic with the light in the distance while Armageddon churned to life overhead.  A blue jay stopped for a moment--no doubt looking for a place to hunker down--just as I was framing the shot...

The storm held off until after dark, but then the deluge began in earnest, and is still going strong.  This afternoon the wind has finally died down, though the rain is worse.  When I opened the blinds this morning, my prayer flags on the back deck were sodden silky bits of fabric, though oddly, one had been neatly folded by the storm into a very cool origami bird.  Maybe that will help fly more prayers out into the world...

Just off the deck is a sweet little oriental cherry tree and though all the leaves have been gone for a few weeks now, this morning I had this: bird leaves.  There were many more perched in the branches, but even trying to stay as motionless as possible, half of them freaked anyway and flew off just as I took the picture.

Here's a strange association thing.  Just proves that either my brain is truly warped, or my heart will always belong to Scotland...

After I'd taken the top photograph, I took this close-up of the pine tree on the back slope.  I love the symmetry of the limbs, and it reminded me of St. Michael's Church, next to Linlithgow Palace.

St. Michael's, Linlithgow, Scotland.  I took this photo on a gloriously beautiful day in July, just before my birthday a few years back.  No doubt this is a case of you had to be there, but even if no one else sees it, I do.

Okay, before I get all morose, I'm going now for a nice cup of Yorkshire tea and a warm chocolate chunk cookie.  Besides, I can't resist the lure of my cozy chair, or the siren call of my book, especially while the rain pounds the roof and the gloom of a stormy afternoon deepens.  Sigh.  Heavenly...
[As always, click on photos to enlarge]

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


"Excuse me," she says to get the pharmacist's attention.
He turns from measuring capsules into a bottle and gives her a smile.  "How can I help you?"
"I guess I want a flu shot."
Raised eyebrow.  "You don't know?"
Smiling ruefully, she shakes her head.  "I'm not sure.  I really don't do well with shots," she gulps audibly, "or needles."
The pharmacist comes to the counter, and after reassuring her that many people feel the same way, he goes over the particulars involved in having the shot.  Fearful, stomach roiling, she takes a deep breath and decides to do it.  After paying and filling out the form, she follows the pharmacist to a small room behind the counter.
"Take a seat," he says softly, "and don't worry, I haven't lost a patient yet."
She tries to smile, appreciating his attempts to allay her fears, though her heart has kicked into overdrive at the sight of the needle in his hand.  "Seriously," she reiterates, "I truly have a problem with shots.  When I was a kid they practically had to knock me out to even get near me, and once when I was in high school and had to get a tetanus shot, the nurse left me alone in the exam room.  I snuck out through a back door, and tried to leave the clinic."  She grins slightly.  "I would have made it too, if the nurse hadn't been so quick."
He laughs, then calmly tells her to pull up her sleeve.  When he swabs a spot on her shoulder with a cold alcohol wipe, the odor fills her nose, her head begins a loud buzzing like a hive of bees and oddly, the floor seems to be rushing toward her.  Dimly she's aware the pharmacist has his hand on the back of her neck and is gently pressing her head onto her knees.  "Just take some deep breaths, everything's fine, just breathe," he murmurs from the bottom of a well.
A few moments later, embarrassed, she slowly sits up.  "I am so sorry.  What a baby!"  She pulls her sleeve down and smiles sheepishly at the man.  "Maybe I can come back in a few days?"
The pharmacist smiles.  "What for?" he asks.
Confused, she says, "To try again?"
Still smiling, he helps her into her coat, then turns to gather up the used paraphernalia.  "I gave you the shot before you...ah, got lightheaded."
Staring at him in disbelief. "What?"  At his nod, she laughs, then holds out her hand.  "I didn't even feel it!" she says in amazement as they shake hands.  "Thank you so much.  You're my hero."

"Sometimes the anticipation is far worse than the actual event."  He pats her on the shoulder.  "You did fine."  Smiling, he says, "See you next year."

Judging by the new bounce in her step, the broad smile on her face as she walked away...he just might.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On a Binge...

(photo from

No, not food, not booze. Binge reading. After spending most of October doing research and making notes for NaNo, then half of November writing, I had a nice stack of books calling my name, whispering in my ear, demanding my attention, but first there was the holiday...

Thanksgiving was good, with yummy food and wine, and a wonderful phone call from my friend Morag in Edinburgh who brought me up-to-date with all the news from my old neighborhood.  It always makes me so homesick, but it's worth it to hear about everyone.

Then Mom and I did the Black Friday shopping thing--which wasn't as crappy as anticipated, though still not something I would normally do.  As it turned out I was able to find the perfect Christmas present for her, so it was worth braving the crowds and insane parking situations.  On Saturday the boys and I spent the day readjusting to being on our own again: they collapsed in their beds and slept all day as if they'd just finished the Iditarod, and I watched movies whilst getting things back to normal.

So, on Sunday, with chores done, dogs walked, house clean, no company, I dove headfirst into my beckoning pile of books...and sometime around 2:00am this morning, I swam up to the surface for a breather.  Now, obviously I had to walk the dogs, make meals, do laundry, take showers, etc., but in all those minutes and hours in between?  Submerged, buried, lost in space.  And it was great.  Totally, absolutely great.

The weather was atrocious, which means it was perfect for reading.  The rain streamed down the windows, winds howled around the house, but the dogs and I were warm and toasty inside, and while they napped, I read.  I've been to Hell with Sandman Slim, battling hellions and his evil nemesis as he tries to rescue his murdered love, while Lucifer's gone back to Heaven and God's on holiday.  I spent some time in a small California town solving a seventeen-year-old murder mystery.  And had a most intriguing adventure in the alternate reality of 19th century London, filled with steampunk and sorcery.

I'm kind of tired today, what with all the traveling and exploits, plus staying up too late last night, but I don't mind.  It's not often that the planets align just right: miserable weather, a stockpile of unread books, and a few days to leave this world behind to explore others.  And being a reader, that pretty much describes nirvana...