Friday, August 31, 2012

Long Weekend Ahead...

I love a three-day weekend.  Sitting here on Friday morning, doesn't Tuesday seem far, far away in the future?  Course, it always comes too fast, suddenly it's over and we shake our heads and think, "Where did the weekend go?"  Still.  Right now?  I've got days of relaxing and chillin' ahead of me.

Well.  After I go to Lowe's and pick up my new California monstrosity bathtub mechanism that has just arrived, then try for the, fifth...time to fix that damn leaking irrigation hose**, and stop at the Co-op to buy some repellent to keep the cats out of the yard because they ate the entire baby quail population--and it was a massacre people, just a grim, horrible massacre that I still can't talk about.

[**The blasted miracle mend everything tape didn't work.  When the water came on yesterday morning, it blew out the tape and I had a geyser spewing like a mini Old Faithful.  Later in the day, I removed the tape, dried the hose, retaped...and this morning watched the geyser blow out the tape again.  Shit!  I'm thinking of going back to the duct tape, then spraying the hose with some sort of rubber coating to seal the tape around the hose.  Will investigate that option when I go to Lowe's this afternoon.]

So, my three-day weekend will start sometime much later today, but that's okay.  I would rather have all the chores out of the way so I can truly lounge about and do whatever I want ("il dolce far niente") without a guilt trip hindering my time off.

Hey!  And I think I've got the plot for my next story.  The glimmer of an idea came to me yesterday morning whilst walking the boys.  I spent some time in the afternoon doing some research; now I'm letting things percolate in my mind for a bit, but I just might be on to something.  After my disappointment with the Poison Pen idea of last month, I'm cautiously optimistic at this point. 

And no.  There will be no details forthcoming for awhile, and probably not until NaNo in November...or maybe even after that, who knows.  For now I'm being discreet and circumspect in order not to jinx things.

I got a comment on my previous blog post (below this one) from Best Part of My Day, wishing me a nice weekend before the boys head back to school.  It made me smile that she got a little confused--no doubt my fault--about the boys vs the dogs.  I thought I would clarify that they are both.

My boys, my dogs: Ozzy and Max, in order of appearance...

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!  See you in September!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Days of the Week...

This morning when I let the boys outside, I got the first, long-awaited, cool scent of Fall in the air.  Cool in both senses of the word:  very good, and wow, it's actually chilly out here!  I stood there, letting the goosebumps rise, and took a deep cleansing breath of fresh, brisk, tantalizing air...and oh, it was beyond heavenly.

Course, hardly two hours later whilst walking the dogs in the park, I was sweating, they were panting--thanks to the steaming humidity--while the temperature continued to rise into the 80s.  Bah.

I had a bunch of backyard work to do today, so I wasn't pleased, but managed to forge ahead anyway, starting with the work to fix the leak in the drip irrigation hose.  And I have to say, that new Mend-It tape worked like a dream.  It self-seals as you wind it around the hose (or pipe or whatever), and much like electricians tape, it's stretchy.  Then I cleared out most of the dead flowers and weeds, and pruned other stuff.  By 12:30 I was too hot, too sweaty, and figured enough already.

Cleaned up, gave the boys their lunch, had mine, did some laundry, baked some Fairy cakes, and now I'm finally getting around to posting something I meant to do yesterday...

On one of the sites I read, Should Be Reading, there is a regular event called Teaser Tuesday.  The gist is that you randomly open the current book you're reading, and pick a sentence or two--without giving anything away that could spoil things, of course.

I've been meaning to do this for a few weeks now, but either got too busy or forgot.  So, even though it's a day late, here's my teaser for Tuesday...

The book I'm reading right now is this one:

It's been out since March, though I've just discovered it, and let me say that this is an amazingly good story; bizarre and weird and strangely compelling.  The guy on the cover is Criminy Stain (and holy crap, is that a name, or what?!); he lives in a place called Sang, sort of an alternate England.  He runs a circus and has been waiting for...well.  If you want to read reviews--because I'm not saying another word--here's the link:  Wicked As They Come

The snippet I've chosen:

I watched him playing with the long blades of grass, weaving them into patterns as he hummed an unfamiliar song, a waltz.
"What are you doing?" I asked him.
"I'm letting you get used to the idea of me," he said idly.  "I'm pretending to be harmless.  Is it working?"


Another thing I've been meaning to do is this: Waiting on Wednesday, by Breaking the Spine, another weekly blog event.  In this one you're supposed to post about the book you can't wait to get your hands on.  There are actually several great titles coming up over the next few months that I'm interested in, but this one is not only top of my list, but comes out next week:

It's due out September 4th, and I will be reading it two minutes after it hits the bookshelves.  This is Book Five in a brilliant series about the ten archangels who rule our world.  It's edgy, harsh, exciting, and so, so clever--to say nothing of being well-written.  Reviews here: Archangel's Storm.


I would have posted my contribution to Magpie Tales by now, but I couldn't come up with a single thought about the picture.  Funny how that goes.  Usually a story, or a simple haiku, or something will stir my imagination, but this one just left my mind blank.  Oh well.  There's always next week.

Okay, time to taste a Fairy cake, then get back into my book.  Overall the day hasn't been too bad.  Got lots of work done, made treats, and now get to enter another dimension.  I'd say that's pretty good for a Wednesday...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Escape Mode, the Money Pit, and How 'Bout Those Mayans...

I spent the weekend escaping: Saturday in NY, Sunday in Chicago...metaphorically speaking, of course.  In the real world I walked the dogs, did chores, cooked food, but in my other world?  I read my book; well, two books actually--hence the NY/Chicago trips.  I unplugged from the internet, gave my overworked, beleaguered brain a little holiday, and just checked out.  It was great.  Really great.  One advantage to living by yourself: you get to do stuff like that and nobody gives you grief about it.  

The Saturday book was so good, in fact, that I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning to finish it, then before I switched off the light, I downloaded the second book to my Kindle, ready to forge ahead with the series the minute I was ready, later in the day. 

I fell asleep thinking about the pros and cons of such instant gratification.  I'm definitely in the pro camp...


Today's been busy with dog appointments at the vet, scheduling my own appointment with the optometrist--because the new glasses aren't exactly working right, then a long convoluted trip to Lowe's and Home Depot to deal with some ongoing issues with the Money Pit, one being a leak in the drip irrigation system that I have already tried to fix twice this Summer. 

Duct tape has failed me.  

Yesterday, while talking with Jan (BFF) on our usual Sunday phone call, she told me about this new tape that she used on a submerged water pump that is still holding after months underwater.  Mighty Mend-It Tape.  (You gotta love that name, if nothing else).  Since I had to go to Lowe's today to special order some fixtures for that ridiculous goddamn California bathtub I have (and yes, ka-frigging-ching on that order), I thought I would look for the tape.  Lowe's didn't carry it, but just like Jan said, Home Depot did. 

So, I had planned to fix the leak this afternoon, but it has turned into yet another humid and scorchingly miserable day.  And holy crap.  When is this going to stop?  I am beyond tired of being hot and sweaty, and having to curtail my outside chores due to the very real possibility of spontaneous human combustion or heat stroke.  Buggers.

Ah well.  Saturday is September 1st, and a few weeks later--Autumnal Equinox on Sept 22nd--is the first day of Fall.  So maybe, at last, glory hallelujah and God save the Queen, the end might be coming.  

And no, I don't mean that stupid Mayan it-makes-no-sense-that-the-world's-going-to-end-but-stupid-people-are-going-to-freak-out-anyway crap.  I just mean the end of this blasted heat.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Wee Friend...and Friday

Last night when I went outside to water the back garden, I found a companion to chat with as I worked. This is a different little lizard than the guy in the front rockery that I've been trying to get a photo of all Summer. She (and I will explain why I think she in a minute) watched every move, head turning to follow me as she soaked up the sun on the stone step. I was even able to go back inside, grab my camera, and take some shots without bothering her at all.

I really don't mind these little creatures, and particularly like their company when it's just one at a time. The other day, with that big Dragon Dad followed by the whole family...well, after the snakes, it was just a bit much. One-on-one, I do fine.

And here's why I think the wee lizard is a girl:  Check out those nails!  The photo is slightly out of focus, though what I'm trying to convey here are the toenails, not her body. (They look like those women who never cut their nails...which I find totally gross, but whatever).
And just to clarify that I actually don't have Komodo Dragons in my back garden:  This is how big she really is...(and how brilliant is the telephoto lens on my camera...??)
Forgot to mention how great my Stuffed Zucchini Boats were the other night.  Honestly delicious and so easy to make, I'm going to have more this weekend--well, I kinda have to since the zukes just keep on growing.  Still, this was the best recipe.  I used Italian sausage instead of Chorizo, panko instead of traditional bread crumbs, and my zucchini was about 9" long.  Oh, and I cooked it about fifteen minutes longer than the recipe called for.  Don't know why my zucchini took more time, but in the end it was perfect with those extra minutes.
Zuke and my Asian salad.  Very (very) good, easy and quick dinner...
So, it's Friday...and there's lots of things to drink to:  I have a new book to read, the Gates of Hell seem to be closing a bit, so it's warm but not bone-meltingly humid--the air actually feels fresh and cool this morning for a change--and I got new glasses yesterday that I totally love.  And no doubt I'll love them even more once my eyes adjust to the changes in my prescription. 
And holy crap people, has the world always been this sharp and clear??

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Down Every Aisle...


This morning I'm at the grocery store, standing solitary and bemused in an aisle, as I try to remember that one item NOT on my list.  I thought of it as I was driving to the store, sure that I wouldn't forget, but now that I've gotten everything on the list and want to check out, I can't for the life of me recall what the one last thing is.
In my peripheral vision, I see someone coming down my aisle, but I'm mentally going through my cupboards and the refrigerator trying to jog my memory about that blasted missing item.
"'Scuse me, Miss," says a very old, wobbly voice.  Two things occurred at once: Miss?  No one's called me Miss in ages--how old is this person to think I qualify for Miss status?  And second: here we go again.  I seem to be generating some sort of magnetic field lately, attracting strangers, old ones especially, and seemingly always in the grocery store. 
I turn to look at the person, and find myself looking at two people, both staring up at me.  Now, as I've mentioned before, I'm sort of tall, however, I felt like Gulliver as I gazed at this ancient couple.  The woman couldn't have been 5' tall, or weigh more than 90 lbs soaking wet and fully dressed.  She stood about boob-high to me, and reminded me of a wee sparrow, or maybe a wren.  The man was a bit taller: maybe shoulder-height to me, but wizened and worn like an old piece of leather.

"Yes?" I ask, smiling at them.

The old lady mutters to the man that she doesn't want to make jam anyway, so why don't they just go home?  I think at first that they can't find the canning section, which is understandable because for some unknown reason, the store has moved all that stuff to the gardening area.  Go figure. 

"Are you looking for the jars?" I say helpfully, because I had gone up and down every aisle in the bloody store before I found the inexplicable canning department when I made the cherry/blueberry jam last month.

"No," says the old guy, "we can't find the corn syrup.  A young man told us aisle 9, and that's where it should be, with the baking stuff, but it wasn't there."

I grin.  "It's hard to figure the method to their madness sometimes, isn't it?"

He steps close to me and lowers his voice to murmur, as if what he's going to say is an alarming secret that shouldn't be overheard, "We're trying to make jam, but the recipe calls for corn syrup."  He blinks up at me.  "You ever hear of such a thing?"

Trying to commiserate at the gravity of the situation, I struggle not to burst out laughing like I want to, and instead quietly say, "Well, it's usually sugar, isn't it?"

The woman, who seems very tired, no doubt from endlessly tramping up and down the aisles, sighs deeply.  "I told him we could just use sugar, but he said if the recipe says corn syrup, it has to be corn syrup."

We share a brief, knowing look, smiling at the immutable ways of men, then suddenly I have a memory.  "Wait," I say, closing my eyes, trying to recall it.  "I needed corn syrup for something I was baking last Christmas.  It wasn't in the baking section where it should have been..."  The memory is elusive, but I track my Christmas self through the aisles, until I stand in front of the corn syrup.  Eyes fly open and I smile.  "I know where it is!"

I whip my cart around and with two little ancients trailing behind me, I make my way to the right aisle.  The aisle with maple syrup and oatmeal and pancake mix...and corn syrup.  We stand in front of the shelf, the old man shaking his head.  "I know," I say in agreement, "who would have thought?"  They both look at me, give me big smiles, then thank me so generously, I felt like I'd just saved them from a train wreck.  It was nice and very sweet. 

As I turn away, I realize I'm in the cereal aisle.  Cereal!  That's it!  The missing item I couldn't remember!  I smile and grab a box off the shelf pondering that whoever said no good deed goes unpunished, was very much mistaken.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Show and Tell...

I'm sitting here at the computer, sweltering in the heat and humidity.  See?  This always happens.  Just yesterday I said it was cooling off, but today the gods laugh, and prove me wrong.

Ah well.  I've been playing with my new toy, and drinking a very delicious Italian orange soda.  When in Italy, I got hooked on the SanPellegrino water, and these sodas.  Imagine how amazed I was last year, whilst wandering the aisles at my "out-in-the-flaming-middle-of-nowhere" Costco, when I stumbled across a mountainous display of my favorite soda.

Another reason I like these--besides the incredible flavor, and the lack of sugary by-products--is they have a paper cover over the top.  You peel it off, and the top is clean and unsullied, not like a can of pop you would buy here, in the States, where you don't know who or what has touched the top.  You gotta love those Italians, huh?

So, about the new toy.  Earlier today I was at Staples, loading up on paper supplies because of their most excellent back-to-school sales.  I got 6 notebooks for a dollar, and two packs of index cards for 50 cents, and pens and binder clips, and.......well, let's just say I'm all stocked up for the year. 

I also found a speech recognition software program that was nearly 70% off and snatched it right off the shelf.  There might have been a squeal or two involved, I'm not sure in all the excitement.  I've wanted to try out this Dragon thing for the longest time but it's been fairly cost-prohibitive.  Until today.

After I got it loaded, and listened/watched the tutorial, I went into my writing program and TALKED as the words flew across the screen!  It was the coolest thing ever.  The more you use it, the more it adapts to your way of speaking, which in turn makes it type faster, and the more you can accomplish.

I can't wait to experiment, and might even see if it works here on the blog, though my main purpose in wanting a Dragon was for my serious work.  Some days, after writing for hours, I can hardly see straight, my neck is torqued, my fingers don't work, I have usually forgotten my's not pretty.  It will be fun to see if this will hinder or help.  For the price, I can now find out.

So. After playing with the Dragon, I took the boys out back to sniff around and noticed I have several lemon cukes ready to pluck.  I found a truly great stuffed zucchini recipe the other day that I'm making for dinner tonight, and will have a salad with one of my cucumbers.

They look so cheerful and festive in my Clarice Cliff bowl, don't they?  Though to be honest, it's not actually a Cliff, but it is from the same time period and pottery place.  I love my bowl.  Look at the colors, and the golden wings on each side.  I found this lovely treasure in a tiny little charity shop in Edinburgh several years ago.  I have a real thing for this kind of Art Deco-ish, 1930s style, and nobody did it quite as wonderfully as Clarice.

Okay, that's all for my Show and Tell.  And might I say, that was way more fun as a grown-up than when I was in 5th grade...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Night and Day...

Last night the sunset looked like a watercolor painting.  There were drifts of yellow, streaks of vibrant orange, tints of red, all blending into a breathtaking mélange against the deep shadows of the mountain range.

After watering the back garden, I sat outside, watching the light fade, the colors change, and reveled in the cool breeze.  Yes, the cool breeze.  The heat is finally beginning to dissipate a little at night, and the daytime temps have dropped about 15 degrees, though it's still too humid, and by late afternoon I'm in a sweat of are the boys.  The Sun has become my nemesis: hateful, dreaded, always lurking, waiting to spear my eyes, burn my skin, fry my brain; a rabid monkey on my back that I can't shake.

This too shall pass.  A mantra I have chanted over the years, in many situations.  And though it's true--nothing stays the same--sometimes it's very hard not to squirm with impatience, wish for time to speed up, wonder when this too shall pass.  I know that Fall follows Summer, it's a given, no matter what's happening around us, to us, because of us. 

By this time next month I'm hoping for goosebumps whilst walking the dogs in my Hawaiian shirt, happy in the realization that it's finally time to shift them to the back of the closet for another year.  I will wait, and smile with anticipation, for the first morning I reach for a hoodie because of the Fall chill in the air.  I'm going to relish the joy of planning, and making, a big pot of Irish stew, the dogs underfoot as they recognize the smells wafting around the kitchen.  They love my stew.

But, until then...

This morning the birds were at the bath, as they are most mornings.  It made me smile to watch them, lined up in the tree, waiting their turn.  I put three large rocks in the water, to give them a perch, and to help the smaller birds get drinks without drowning.

And since I will miss this morning ritual of the birds, when the air cools and the water in the bath ices over, I'm going to just enjoy each moment. 

Because this too shall pass.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Magpie Tales 131...Inheritance

Under Windsor Bridge, 1912, by Adolphe Valette

Yellow acrid fog
Such captains of industry
Bequeath deadly shrouds

Magpie Tales 131...Pollution, miasma, industrial hunger.  Have we made any progress in the one hundred years since Valette's painting?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Alfalfa Sprouts

So, I get up this morning, let the dogs out, make some coffee and when passing one of the mirrors, I notice a portion of hair at the back of my crown is sticking straight up, like Alfalfa, one of the Little Rascal kids.  I run my fingers through my hair, but this one piece just won't settle down.

I smile, picturing that boy, but carry on with my morning, because after all, it's just a case of extreme bed hair and will go away when I take a shower, though I can't imagine what I was doing in my sleep to get such a peculiar hair style.

Shower, dry my hair, look in the mirror.  WTF?  The chunk of hair is pointing to the ceiling.  I dunk my head in the bathroom sink, scrub the spot at the back of my head, repeat the brushing and drying, and for about two seconds, I think I've conquered the weird hair issue.  But no.  I'm looking in the mirror as the hair springs back up.  All I needed was the special effect boing sound to complete my dismay.

Another dunking, more creative hair drying, a momentary contemplation of heating up the iron to press the unruly strands down--thankfully a quickly discarded plan as I came to my senses.  My hair is fairly short and a trip to the ER, explaining how I got 3rd degree burns on my head with an iron just wasn't how I wanted to spend my time.

But, two dunkings later (three if you count the shower), blow drying, numerous hair products, and every hair trick I know...I still stood, looking into the mirror at my Alfalfa sprout.  I get out my hand mirror and look into it as I turn my back to the big mirror.  If I tip my head, I can see...what is that??  It looks like a little tornado has spun through my hair, leaving behind a newly-formed cowlick?!  How can that be?  Cowlicks don't just appear out of thin air.  Do they?  Aren't you born with them?

The dogs could care less if I have one cowlick or twenty.  It's time for their walk. 

As we're wandering around the grounds of the VA, I'm mulling over this strange turn of events.  Did I sleepwalk down in the valley at one of the farms and let a cow slurp my head?  Has the debilitating heat finally corkscrewed my brain, manifesting in swirls on my scalp?

Back home, I get on the internet to figure out what's going on.

Turns out that, yes, indeed, most people are born with their cowlicks, though often by adulthood they have gone away.  It's a directional hair follicle deal, and as kids grow, things change.  Adults can have cowlicks appear after head injuries, chemical treatments, events that have impacted skull or scalp.  It's not often a cowlick just spontaneously sprouts, and there's no explanation for why when they do.  Great.

Nothing can be done about it either.  Well, some folks (according to the internet articles I read) have done electrolysis, though that's out of the question.  I would rather look like Alfalfa than shoot electrodes into my head.  I have enough issues, thanks.

I'm blaming it on the heat, of course.  I think my brain has fried, the proof first being in the tornado swirl of a cow's tongue; the second in the Alfalfa spear that no amount of fiddling has succeeded in taming.  So far.  Though I hear Gorilla Glue is pretty effective for most everything.

What can I say?  I look like a dork, and Alaska is sounding better by the day:  No more annihilating heat.  And I can wear a hat nearly year round.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stories Within...

About six weeks ago, I had a strange dream, about a bare room, photos flashing on a wall, and being tasked with writing a paragraph for each one.  When I woke up, and couldn't make sense of such a weird dream, I decided to reenact it by randomly selecting six pictures from my photo program and writing something.  It was a fun and interesting experiment, though it didn't give me the next book plot I was hoping for.

So, because it's another bloody hot day over 100* and I can't think of anything relevant--or even irrelevant--to write about, I'm going to do it again.

Six photos, randomly snagged (without looking) from a collection of approximately 4K, all taken by me.  Six stories, plucked from the myriad seething in my head...

The crew responsible for paving the new sidewalks had taken a very long lunch to celebrate Joe's 50th birthday and Stan's retirement, with many a toast made and glass raised.  By the time they returned to the job site, there was a rush to finish the last sidewalk; it was Friday, after all.

The tree soared to dizzying heights, the first branches at least sixty feet above the ground.  Growing unfettered in the deep forest for nearly two centuries, the spirit of the tree pondered the unfamiliar noise that wafted on the breeze.  A buzzing, like an enormous wasp, then a loud crashing as if a great storm had torn a fellow tree asunder.  It was still puzzling over the sounds when the first loggers came over the rise.

**Two men drown trying to ford the river.  The people and their animals need to get across, no matter the season.  A decision is made in the tiny Highland village: a bridge must be built.  And so it is.  The arch is perfect, the stones fit tight and proper, there is no cement, concrete or plaster.  It is a marvel of construction, and human skill.  It is 295 years old.  How did they accomplish such a thing in 1717?

The death mask had been buried for hundreds of years in the ancient cemetery of the old Abbey.  During a restoration of the grounds, it was unearthed, cleaned and carbon dated.  No one knew who the man was.  His story was written in his face, though no one in the 21st century could read the language.

She was old now, and decrepit.  Her coloring had faded, making her appear dull and lifeless.  The landscaping had overgrown the beautiful gardens where Italian aristocracy had once danced on the terrace under the moon as it glittered across the Bay of Naples.  Her eyes were closed, shuttered and dark, no longer gleaming over the sea with bright lights and music.  Once the pride of a noble family, she stood forgotten and diseased, her death slow and torturous.

They gathered in the dead oak because it amused them; any dead thing was solely their domain.  Arrogant, superior to every other life form on the planet, they did as they pleased, went where they pleased, and caused fear and panic whenever they circled in the sky.  It didn't matter if it was man or beast, bird or reptile: the vultures always got the last word.

N.B.  If interested in where my photos were taken...
Top to bottom: Drunken sidewalk in Laramie, Wyoming; Tree in Redwood Forest National Park, California; Carrbridge, the Highlands, Scotland; Stone death mask, Dryburgh Abbey, the Borders, Scotland; Grimaldi mansion, Sant'Agnello, Italy; Turkey Vultures, Southern Oregon.

**True story.  I didn't make that one up.  I couldn't begin to make up something that would be better than the truth.  Carrbridge is an amazing place, and the bridge is just beyond belief.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Smoke and Minions

Smoke-filled valley, Southern Oregon, August 2012

I took the photo above ten minutes ago.  To the right of the panorama (out of the frame) the smoke is so thick the mountain ridges aren't even visible.  The air is acrid in mouth and throat, and my eyes began to water within moments of being out on the back deck to take the shots.  The temperature right now--up on my ridge--is 104.8 on the shady side of the house, and it's just past 3:00pm.  It will get hotter as the afternoon heat builds. 

As if it's not bad enough, standing at the Gates of Hell, apparently Satan's minions are coming to visit.  Yesterday, I had a couple of gnarly experiences with--gulp and shudder--snakes and a family of lizards.  Eeewwwww.  Wait, wait.  I have to lift my feet off the floor.

Last night, 8:00pm or so, I walked the dogs down to the mailbox.  It was hot, humid, with a sirocco-type wind as we meandered along the road.  A hawk was circling, his screech very piercing, and I looked up to watch him.  The dogs suddenly began dancing around, nearly tripping me, and I lowered my head to snap at them when I noticed--just a second before my foot lowered--there were EEEWWEEEEWWW...snakes.  Snakes having some kind of hideous, nightmare-inducing convention in the middle of the road.  I jumped about a foot in the air, shrieked like a girl, and nearly fell over backwards to get away.  One of the neighbor women happened to be sitting outside on her porch; she jumped to her feet and shouted "What's wrong?"  I leaped across the road to her yard and began hopping up and down, waving my hands and squirming until I could finally gasp out, "Snakes!"

And see?  It wasn't just me.  She screamed and jumped onto her chair and she hadn't even seen any snakes!  I started laughing, but it was sort of a breathless, oh my god kind of laugh.  I'm wearing thin leather sandals, my toes were within a hair's breadth of landing in the pile of slithering............. oh damndamndamn.

Okay, so I know the buggers like heat, and they were just green garter snakes, not deadly vipers or anything, but holy crap.  I don't want to know there are that many snakes in all of Oregon, let alone on my frigging mountain road.  And it's not like I'm truly afraid of them.  It's more the surprise factor...and the writhing...and the alien-ness.

So.  Everyone calms down, I get the mail, the snakes are gone when I pass the area where they were having their little clan gathering, and the boys and I make it home, safe and reasonably sound.

Now I have to water the back garden, though I'm hyper-alert and skittish.  The smoke in the air seems worse, the hot wind not clearing anything, and I just want to get done, go inside and have a nice cold beer...with my feet well off the ground.

As I'm rolling up the hose, I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye.  I spun around so fast, I made myself dizzy.  A lizard family is headed straight for me across the grass, I think because of the dripping water from the hose.  The Dad is either the biggest frigging lizard this side of Texas, or the smallest alligator.  He was even walking in that ponderous, "I'm bad" Komodo Dragon sort of way, with Mom coming behind him, and god knows how many babies--I didn't stick around to count.  I just dropped the hose and called it a day.  And okay, yeah, yeah, I called it a day as I ran.

There's only so many slithery, crawly creatures I can take in one day.  And though I know it's the heat--the unrelenting, brain-damaging, heat--that is bringing out these wee beasties, frankly that changes nothing because I'm standing at the Gates of Hell where they live.

They don't have snakes or lizards in Alaska, you know.

N.B.   I forgot to mention that the dogs got extra treats when we got back to the house. While I had my head in the clouds watching a hawk, they stopped me from stepping ankle-deep into a Wes Craven horror film.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Magpie Tales 130...The Model

Image by Francesca Woodman

"How long do I have to do this?" she complained.

"Keep still!" he growled.

"No, seriously, you're not paying me enough to lay on this cold floor, wrapped like a piece of meat in butcher's paper, with this stupid shell digging into my ribs!  You said it would be fun to model for you.  This is not fun and I'm freezing."

"Just give me another hour and I'll have everything drawn out," he murmured, focused on the canvas in front of him.

"Five minutes," she snapped, glaring at him.  "And don't forget what you promised me."

"Hmm?"  He wished she would quit distracting him.  Why had he thought she would be a good model?  She never stopped talking, complaining, demanding.

"Fame!  You said I would be immortalized in your painting."

He barked out a laugh, and wondered how irritated she was going to be when she discovered he was an abstract artist, and her face wasn't necessary to his vision.  In fact, he was leaving out her entire head.

With a wide grin, he ignored her grousing, entertained by the thought.


The prompt this week for  Magpie Tales 130 was an odd one, at least to me. What is this woman doing? Her nipples imply she's cold...really cold. That was my clue, this is the story.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I've been waiting for nearly a month for Saturday night's Perseid meteor shower.  I had my cameras all ready, programmed for several different options, depending on the night, the sky, the meteors, the angles, etc.  Tripod ready, lounge chair in place, alarm set, though I decided against sleeping out; instead I would get up at 3:00am, which according to NASA would be optimum viewing of crescent moon, Jupiter, Venus, and the meteors.

At 11:30pm, when I went outside to check the night, there was a distinct smell of smoke in the air, and a haze seemed to be covering the stars a bit.  There was a slight breeze so I figured by the predawn hours, the sky would be clear again.  As clear as it's been for weeks now.  That would be crystal clear.  On Friday night the Milky Way was a celestial boulevard of stars over my head.

3:00am, the alarm goes off, I scramble into my sweats, grab the cameras and tripod where they're stationed at the back door, and head out to the deck.

I can barely find a single star, let alone the myriad heavenly bodies I have seen night after night all Summer long.  The smoke is dense, like looking through gauze, the air is tainted with the smell and slightly burns my throat and eyes.

Well damn.

What are the odds, I wonder?  Days, weeks, months of clear skies, then the very night I have been waiting for, an event that is supposed to be the best in years...and I can't see a bloody thing.

I stayed outside for over an hour, and managed to see one meteor.  It was like a match strike: a quick streak of orange/red and gone.  Imagine if there had been open, clear skies.  That striking match would have been a brilliant stream, among the multitudes that were expected.

Here are a few shots of the smoke, still lingering in the valleys below my mountain this morning.  It turns out there are nearly 25 fires raging in Oregon this weekend.  Many are minor, some are not.  They all generate smoke however, and it's being funneled right down the valleys, becoming stuck between the mountains and ridges in this part of the state.

If you look straight up, the sky is a deep blue, but everywhere else the blue is a faded, grayish color.  The air quality is bad, eyes water if you're outside too long, even the dogs were sort of coughing when we went down the mountain to the park this morning.  Sigh.

I'm going to try again tonight, but unless the fires are put out, and a really strong wind starts blowing, I imagine things will actually be worse, rather than better for me to have any chance of stargazing, or meteor photography.

And how cranky was I to read that all over the country, and the world, people were seeing the best light show ever, with up to 100 meteors an hour?

Odds.  Go figure.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Perception...and Another Lesson Learned

Perception.  What I perceive will not be your reality, and vice versa.  How we have been raised, what we learned in school, in life, even what we hear in music, or someone's voice, or read in a book, a letter--are all perceptions based on the reality in our own little personal bubbles.

Personal space.  That's almost an oxymoron to me.  Personal implying private, owned just by you, and yet space conjures images of wide, open vistas, even the vastness of our Universe.  We each have a zone, if you will, that marks the boundaries we find acceptable.  I have two basic ones: I can't stand anyone coming up behind me while I'm walking and will step aside for them to pass; and whatever you do, don't crowd me in the check-out line at the store.

But our personal space is just perception, isn't it?

When I was younger, still looking out at the world with rose-colored glasses, I had a very big, happy smile.  I used to smile all the time.  I smiled at strangers, friends, co-workers, family.  Then that big ol' smile started getting me in trouble.  Smiling at the guy on the bus, cheerful in the beauty of a Monday morning.  After I got off at my stop, he followed me for blocks until I had to hide in the back of a store.  I began driving to work instead of taking the bus.  Just because I smiled. 

I smiled at the people all around me at an open-air concert, buoyed by the music and the energy, and a girl tried to pick a fight with me because I was smiling at her boyfriend.  A guy I hadn't even noticed.

A man at one of my earliest jobs tried to grab me in the office supply closet.  Because I smiled at him every morning when I walked into the building; in his mind that was an invitation.

I learned not to smile so broadly, to judge the degree of a smile, to smile less often.  A sad lesson to learn: that there is something to perceive in a smile that isn't in any way what was meant, other than just the simple gesture it was.

Then there's friendly.  How can being kind, pleasant, interested in another human being, be misconstrued as anything other than exactly what it is?  Friendly has gotten me in just as much trouble as my smile.  Many times over the years, when I've shown curiosity or paid attention to someone, it's often been taken in a way totally other than intended.

Why is that?  Are we so callous, or jaded, or paranoid, that simple gestures are suspect?  I learned not to be so outgoing, not to engage in random conversations, to rebuff a stranger's attempts to pass the time in chatter.  Another lesson.

Recently, I had a reminder of those old memories.  This time though it was in the cyber world, a whole new reality where, it appears, lessons still need to be learned.

I had a minor acquaintance--sum total of a dozen emails or so--and in the course of this brief correspondence, I freely admit that on several occasions I used the  ;D  icon.    And holy crap, we all know that constitutes a big goddamn smile, don't we?  Compounding that, a kindly friendliness was taken as crossing the boundary of personal space.

An email was received, succinct remarks were made.  And I got the message, quite clearly.  After all, I've been here before.  I was mortified, embarrassed.  Then I got pissed, because dammit, haven't I already learned this: to smile carefully, sparingly; not be so open and friendly?

Perceptions.  It makes no difference if a connection is made in person, on the internet, in a letter, over the phone.  Every situation is a ring toss between was is, and what is perceived; between my reality and yours.

Another lesson learned...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Get the Kleenex...

I had to post this.  It's the most heartwarming, tearjerker moment I've seen in a long time.  A brilliant photo, a kind man, and the obvious love he has for his dog.  Read the story here

I've got to go, can't see the screen or the keyboard, and damn, where's my Kleenex??

Photo by Hannah Stonehouse Hudson/StonehousePhoto

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sleeping Out, Sisters and Marmalade

I'm sleeping outside this weekend...Saturday night to be exact.  If anyone wants to join me on the back deck, there's plenty of room, wide-open vistas, and whiskey; just bring your own sleeping bag, and prepare to be dazzled.

The Perseid meteor show--an annual August event--will begin sometime after midnight, in my part of the world at least.  I'm going to experiment with my camera and try to capture a shooting star or two, though that might be out of my league, and beyond my camera's abilities.  But hey, if you don't try, you never know, right?

Before that, however, my sister is coming tomorrow to spend the night before Mom's big move on Saturday.  She's driving down from up north, and we're going to have us a Girls Night.  I haven't seen her for months, so I'm looking forward to her visit, even if it's just for an overnighter.

So, this morning after walking the boys, I go to the store to stock up on Girls Night stuff, plus I have to make those Good Morning muffins for the moving crew.  I'm standing in the jam/jelly aisle wondering if I should stick with the apricot preserves, or follow the recipe and do the marmalade, when this old guy comes tottering toward me, and leans in to read the labels on the two jars I'm holding. 

I smile in resignation, because these things happen to me all the time, though I honestly don't understand why.  I turn the jars toward him so he can read the labels without squinting, then something clicks in his mind, and he begins to talk about his childhood in Berlin--and going by his age this would be Berlin sometime before WW2, for sure.  He tells me how wonderful it was to have oranges, and how his mother used to make marmalade that he would eat right out of the jar with a big spoon; how tart and slightly bitter the orange rinds were, but so delicious.  I was just mesmerized, and the look on his face?  He was back in Berlin, no question, and for a moment there, he took me with him.

When he was done with the story, he looked up at me (he was short, I'm kind of tall) and gave me this lovely smile, then patted my arm and said, "Take the marmalade dear, it's always best." 

I smiled back.  "Thanks for your help."  And I put the jar into my cart as he walked away. 

Guess now I'll find out how the muffins taste with marmalade.  I have it on good authority that it's the best...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Fun Just Has To Stop...

Yesterday.  Hot, humid.  Stuck in the house because there's a chance the couple from Denver will want a second viewing--this according to my realtor who talked to their realtor.  (Have I dropped into a bad movie plot??)

So, as the day goes by and it's less and less likely anyone is coming, I decide to test out this muffin recipe.  Yeah, yeah, I know:  It's hot as Hell, no normal person would turn on the oven, but wait!  Sometimes there's actually a method to my madness...

My mother is moving this weekend.  She's downsizing into a smaller place.  I was watching this cooking show a few days ago whilst eating my breakfast, and one item on the menu were these yummy looking Good Morning Muffins.  I'm thinking, since everyone is showing up at my Mom's place at 9:00 on Saturday morning, that maybe I'll see if these muffins wouldn't be a good thing for everyone to eat when they arrive at her door.

I have to try them first though.  And now that it's nearly 5:30, I've pretty much ruled out the Denver couple, so I forge ahead.

No doubt it would have been just as easy to stick the muffin tin outside on the deck to cook instead of turning on the oven at all.  But still.  No matter the meltdown in heating the kitchen to a temperature rivaling nuclear fusion, I'm gonna do this.

Brief aside here:  I make a mess when I cook.  Stuff on the counters, often dripping down the cabinets, always something stuck to my shoes.  I don't know why this is the way I cook.  It just is. 

Okay, I've put the muffins in the oven--they look really good--and I turn to survey the mess.  This is just the sink area.  I have a big kitchen.  You don't want to see the rest, believe me.

The phone rings.  It's a different realtor, with another couple who want to see the house.  I glance at the clock.  It's nearly 6:00.  "Right now?" I ask, as I watch a long drip of melted butter run down the cabinet, and plop on the kitchen floor into a dusting of either flour or sugar.  "Would fifteen minutes be all right?" she says.

You're kidding me.

Not only do I have to somehow clean the kitchen, but there's other stuff I put away when someone is coming to view the place, like the dog toys that are scattered all over the floor and down the hall, and my laptop and tablets and pens, my cameras and books and Kindle.  Well, just holy crap and damnation.

What can I do?  Am I trying to sell the place, or what?  "Give me half an hour," I say and practically hang up on the woman, before switching into maniacal overdrive.  Did I mention it's hot and humid? 

Just as I finished slamming the door on the dishwasher, the timer went off, the realtor pulls in, the dogs bark, and the phone rings.  I stood in the kitchen sweating like a long distance runner, shirt stuck to me front and back--and believe me, not in a good, sexy way--and I just had to laugh.

I really think all these days of unrelenting heat have finally damaged my brain.  I was still laughing as I answered the phone, took the muffins out of the oven, threw them on the stove top, then dashed to the front door to shoo the dogs away and let the people in.  My realtor--on the phone--asked me if I was all right.  That made me laugh harder.  I told her to call me later.

Long story short.  The people were very nice, and to give them some time to wander around, I took the boys on the 15 minute walk to the mailbox.  By the time we got back, they were just leaving, so everything worked out in the end.  And I was finally able to get a good look at the muffins.

I cut the recipe in half, in case I didn't like it, then I would only have to deal with 12 mistakes instead of 24, but they looked so good with their little crunchy tops...

I waited a bit, then tasted one, and they're pretty good.  Perfect for those days when there's no time for breakfast, or when camping, hiking, any time a nice, substantial muffin might come in handy.  I've decided to make the full batch of 24 for the Saturday morning moving crew.

So, the recipe is easy, tasty and even in the midst of chaos, they came out just fine.  You can't ask for much more than that...

N.B.  I didn't have any marmalade so used apricot preserves instead.  The muffins are very cake-like, and dense.  I like them, though the reviews on the Food Network site aren't all that good.  Guess it's a matter of taste.  Or maybe my apricots tasted better than marmalade!?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shuffle the Deck...

Up early again this morning to avoid heatstroke whilst walking the dogs.  I'm dreaming of snow, and cold winds, and buckets of rain pouring in sheets down the windows.  This climate is so not for me.  My only consolation today--as I'm driving down the mountain before 9:00am, already sweating--is there's only another month or so to suffer through until the nights get cooler, and the temps during the day begin to drop into the 70s.  Big whoop.

So, I park the car by the baseball complex and before we all pile out, I fiddle with my MP3, deciding on which playlist I want on this hot Monday morning.  I've got four lists at the moment:  concerts I've been to, my favorite songs of all time, calming meditation stuff, and one hit wonders where I just like one song from the Miss Li's Dancing the Whole Way Home

I'm going to be metaphysical here and let the music show me the way, set the tone.  I hit shuffle three times, like you do with a deck of tarot cards before a reading, get the dogs leashed up and off we go into the heat of an already scorching morning, the songs beginning to randomly play in my head...

Favorite Songs of All Time playlist:

(In the order my MP3 shuffled them...)

Night Moves - Bob Seger
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
I'm On Fire - Bruce Springsteen
One of These Nights - Don Henley, The Eagles
Don't Take Me Down - Lamont Cranston Blues Band
Half of My Mistakes - Jace Everett
Walking Blues - Paul Butterfield
Here I Go Again - Whitesnake
I Don't Want to Miss a Thing - Aerosmith

Nine songs chosen, out of approximately 60 in this playlist.  If this were an actual tarot card reading, what in the world is the message here?

After a bit of reflection, I can actually see bits of my story in this.  Shadows of the past swirling around me, while I'm still searching for something I've yet to find, made harder because of the freight train running through the middle of my head.  I've been taken down--more than once--but I shouldn't dwell on regrets because good things have come from half my mistakes.  I might be feeling blue and lonely sometimes, but that's life, isn't it?  So here I go again, back on my own...though I don't think I was born to walk alone.  And damn, I've gotta keep going forward really, because I don't want to miss a thing.

Do we play the music?  Or does the music play us?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tiny Tots...and a Momentary Lapse

A busy, too hot day, though walking past the wildlife window a few minutes ago, I saw the Quail family that lives in my shrubby pines, and finally managed to snag a few photos of the babies.  They run like little two-legged bullets--darting, dashing, hiding--nearly impossible to capture.  I felt like my mother when I muttered, "Would you two please hold still!!"

They're a bit smaller than a newborn chick (as in chicken chick), and have the best camouflage.  If they can't run away like an Olympic sprinter, they can just look like bark dust and hide.

See what I mean?  Blends right in with the different colors of wood and dirt...and no, I don't mind that this wee bird is eating my flowers.

In this shot you can see that one baby is definitely smaller than the other, though as I watched them darting all over the slope, the little one was eating just as much as his/her bigger sibling.


I'll miss all the wildlife when I sell the house.  I'll have to find something equally good to replace it.

And speaking of selling...I had a call from a realtor last night who wanted to bring some people by this morning, which he did.  The couple from Denver seemed quite taken with the view, and the house, though who knows really.  What I do know is it caught me off guard.  The market is pretty bad in southern Oregon right now, so I figured on waiting it out until maybe next Spring.

After they drove off--with three zucchini I managed to offload--I stood in the great room for a minute and freaked out.  Only for a minute, but I did; heart pounding, elevator stomach, gasping for breath.  I thought by the time it actually came to moving, I would know where the bloody hell I was going.   Huh.  Go figure.  And really, as with so many things in life, nothing may come of this, so I need to get a grip. 

The phone rings.  Sunday call from Jan (BFF). 

I give her the rundown, and she's all excited; it's time to move on, regardless of the fear factor; every big change has an element of terror, so roll with it, and more on that vein until I say, "shut up, it's easier said than done." 

After months, months, and more months, I have explored one end of America to the other.  I have narrowed things down to going back to the motherland: Alaska; finding a cabin in the deep woods of Montana,  ditto for Colorado; or forget America and just go home to Scotland.  There are pros and cons for all four options.

So, a few months ago, Jan and I decide to rendezvous in Portland in late September, then fly to Denver, rent a car and wander around the mountains for a week, just to get a feel for things.  I already know the other three places, but have no idea about Colorado.  I sent for several brochures and magazines though, and wow, it's a beautiful place with lots of diversity.  But I need to see things for myself, feel things for myself.

She says this will tie in perfectly with our trip.  I say I might have to rethink Colorado.  Disappointed, she asks why.  I tell her that one of the places I was really interested in, burned down in the fires last month, and there's an ongoing drought which means more fires and how do you figure which places are okay and which aren't?  Then there's the wacko theater killer guy, and, as if that isn't enough, there's a 6-foot lizard on the loose near another place I wanted to check out.  The lizard story gets her laughing so hard she snorts, which always makes me laugh, and as often happens with us, joy banishes the fear.  By the time we hang up, I think I just might be feeling the tiniest little twinge of excitement fluttering somewhere around my elevator stomach.  Maybe.

I don't have a clue what's coming.  Or where I'm going.  But really, do any of us?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lost...Barely Found

Last night it was so hot, I didn't go out to water the back garden until after 10:00.  There was still so much residual heat, the tiny breeze conjured up deserts and Bedouins and dust.  After I got back inside, I noticed that my palm plant looked a bit worse for wear even though I had watered it just a few days ago.  Watering done, I sat down to read and couldn't find my glasses.

I need them to read, but when watching television or doing other things, I prop them on my head.  I could actually feel the weight of them, but they weren't there.  I moved all the couch cushions, looked underneath, went to the table thinking I'd taken them off by the laptop, went through the kitchen.  Dammit!  I haven't been anywhere, they must be right here.  Then I have the idea that they've fallen off my head while I was outside watering.  Flashlight, big search, no glasses.

This goes on for half an hour.  Seriously.  Unless there are gremlins, tiny black holes, or poltergeists, those frigging glasses have to be in the house.

I don't find them.  I can't read my book.  It's 78* at nearly 11:00pm and I'm hot and cranky.  I really need to move to Alaska where I can get cozy under the covers, and sleep.

This morning I'm up before dawn for two reasons: the continuing search for the glasses, and the temp today is to reach 103* so I've got to walk the dogs very early.  The gates of Hell are opening at my feet.  I take the boys out back and scour the hillside, but no luck.  While they're eating breakfast, I repeat the drill of under the couch, move the cushions, yada, yada.  I can't understand this.

Then I focus on the palm.  Maybe I've accidentally dropped my specs into the plant!  I lift the pot out of the container, search all around on the floor.  Nothing.

Dejected, I open the blind...and catch the glint of something from the corner of my eye, but when I turn, I don't see anything.   Clearly, I'm losing the plot.

The palm...

As I brush past the palm to open the next blind, I glance down into the heart of the plant.  See anything?  Neither did first.

I bend closer, not sure what I'm seeing exactly. ..and there they are.  Hanging off one of the frigging palm fronds.   Even in this photo, the glasses are practically invisible.  Click the photo and you might see them.  It's no wonder I couldn't find the damn things last night--I barely found them in broad daylight. 

Because I have to lift the plant out of the container and take it to the kitchen sink to water it thoroughly, I guess my glasses--on top of my head--either got tangled in the fronds, or somehow fell off into the plant.  Go figure.

I'm just happy to have them, and to know I'm not going nuts.

Now, if I could just find a way to close those gates to Hell, it would be a good day...