Saturday, March 29, 2014

Torturous Tale of a Treadmill

Remember last week when I bought a treadmill at Sports Authority?  One of the main reasons I went there was to get it delivered so I wouldn't have to hassle with getting it up two flights of stairs by myself.

Wednesday.  A terrible and blustery day, high winds, hail and serious squalls.  Late afternoon, I'm reading, dogs are napping, the phone rings.  It's the UPS guy calling to tell me he's on his way but looking at his GPS map, it looks like my road is a dead end.  The question is, can he get out once he's at my house.  I'm sort of puzzled by this.  The UPS truck goes up and down the road day in and day out.

Ha.  Turns out, my treadmill is coming from some place in California and is being delivered in a semi. WTF?  I have a long, convoluted conversation with the dude, but I'm already getting a slightly sick feeling that he won't be able to make it to my door.  I tell him to call when he gets to my road and I'll meet him.

Twenty minutes later, just as he calls, the heavens open with a deluge that would have scared Noah. Incredible thunder, lightning, hail that fell like bullets and lashing winds. Seriously.  I wonder some days about timing and odds and the cruel humor of the gods.

To make a long, bitterly miserable story short:  The guy is truly in a flaming semi-truck and there's no way he can turn around once he enters my mountain road.  We end up taking the treadmill totally out of the box (it wouldn't fit in my car otherwise) and between the two of us huffing and puffing, manage to get this 175-lb machine into the back of the Blazer. He starts to leave.  I ask him to take the cardboard and styro--which is blowing all over the frigging place--but he says he's not allowed to take the refuse.  Then I ask how I'm supposed to get the treadmill out of my car when I get home.  He shrugs, gets in his truck and drives off. Bugger bloody hell.

It's raining harder now, I'm soaked to the skin, hair plastered to my head, running down my face, and I have to hurry home, somehow unload the machine and dash back to load the huge pieces of cardboard and styro before I have to chase it all over the mountain.

I won't go into the nightmare of trying to unload 175-lbs of unwieldy metal and motors. I will gloss over dropping one end on the driveway with a loud and ominous clunk as the weight and the rain rip the thing out of my grasp.  I drag it into the garage then dash back to collect the debris, which of course won't fit in the Blazer without being cut into pieces with the box cutter.

Now the hail is about the size of marbles, blowing in drifts like the precursor of nuclear winter, and I'm halfway hoping to be struck by lightning and put out of my misery.

I leave the damn treadmill in the garage and call it a day.  I need time to figure out how to get it up two flights of stairs when I can barely move the weight an inch.

Thursday was really busy with errands and appointments, but whilst driving all over town, still pondering the how do I get the machine upstairs issue, I remember I have those furniture slider disks.  I end up having to move the treadmill on its side, using my leg to balance it, because it won't go through the door into the laundry room straight on. Holding 175-lbs with your thigh gives new meaning to high-impact aerobics.

I call it a day with the machine propped against the wall in the laundry room.  Day Two over and I still have the worst part ahead of me: the stairs...

Yesterday, after a supreme struggle, possibly a tear or two, and definitely many, many curse words, I managed to get the damned machine to the first landing. It took me nearly an hour of sweat and angst. I have discovered muscles I never knew I had and never want to know about in the future. There was a moment whilst pulling 175-lbs up the last step to the landing when I thought all my female parts were going to fall out, then as I dropped to the floor, I wondered if maybe an alien was going to pop through my abdomen instead.  Clearly, I am out of shape.

I sat there groaning for several minutes, then called it a day and crawled up the steps.
Last night I tried to think of someone, anyone, I could call to help me with those last ten steps, but of the folks I know along the ridge, most are in 70s and 80s.  I woke up in the night and went through various scenarios for getting that blasted machine to the main floor.  I thought maybe end-over-end might get the job done faster, quicker, though the margin for being crushed and/or crippled was greater than trying to pull it.

Virtually bench pressing 175-lbs.  Wow, who knew what agony that could be?  Still. End-over-end worked and I got the treadmill up the stairs in about ten minutes.  Then I sprawled across the machine like Desdemona and kept gasping, "I did it, I did it, I did it."

Course, I wasted another hour because I wanted the machine in my bedroom, but after dragging it there, it's too big for the space where I expected it to go.  Crap. Haul it back to the main room, move the dogs' toy box and beds and here's where the thing has to be. All things considered, this is as good a place as any.  And frankly, at this point, I don't care.

It's been an exhausting, difficult week.  I'm still very cranky with UPS.  I'm glad I didn't kill myself or have any of my internal bits become external.  Once again, I am woman, hear me....well....okay, at the moment hear me whimper, but whatever.

And with all the pushing and pulling and yanking and dragging over the past few days, I've lost two pounds already without even turning on the machine.  Cool...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wild Weekend...

...though not the kind of wild like some of the weekends in my misspent youth.  Like that one time: a Thursday, Blues Night at the White Eagle in Portland.  Charlie Musselwhite, too much tequila, rowdy friends...and somehow we all ended up in San Francisco the next day when I should have been at work.

Ah, but that's a story for another time...

What wild weekend means in the here and now is freezing nights, hot days and turbulent high winds. The windmills started whooping about midnight down in the vineyards and continued on until late morning every day.  At first it drove me nuts, but eventually it just becomes white noise in the background, until late Monday night I suddenly realized...Hey! It's quiet!

And then the rains came, driven by the wind that is still howling and raging this afternoon. My house creaks like a ship tossed in a maelstrom and I wonder how firmly a man-made foundation can really attach to bedrock.

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I watched the resident hawks doing their mating dance on Saturday, and though I tried to take a video of the loops and dives, the raucous calls and shrieks, I couldn't follow them with just my camera.  It would take Nat Geo equipment, I think.  Still, it was amazing to stand on my back deck and see the waltz.

Later in the day, I was framing some new photos to replace two I've gotten tired of looking at, and glanced out the den window to see more stuff going on in my birch trees.

Two doves, kissing and loving each other up.  Seriously.  He would nuzzle her, she would tuck her head under his chin, he would rub his cheek on hers.  It was very sweet...

Even with crazy weather, it seems love--and Spring--is in the air as far as the wildlife is concerned.

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Sunday evening, rather than walk toward the mail box, I took the boys in the other direction to the end of the road and the viewpoint.  Max got a bit carried away looking for a place to do his business and went down the steep part of the slope a bit too far. Most folks would no doubt have left, but I'm not most people. When he was finished I slid down the embankment, picked it up and was tying the bag closed when I realized I was standing in a patch of poison oak. Frigging bloody hell and damnation.  I carefully backed away, pretty sure nothing had touched me, and scrambled up the slope.  When we got home I stripped off my clothes just to be sure, put them in the washing machine on hot, then breathed a sigh of relief.

Which lasted for about an hour.

My right forearm looks like I've been chewed on by a hoard of zombies. The itching almost drove me insane Sunday night and most of yesterday.  I tried sooooooo hard not to scratch, but seriously peeps, there's no way I could stand it; the urge just consumes your every thought and is totally impossible to ignore.  Of course, the scratching made it ten times worse and spread the poison in a nice long swath of horrid itching agony.

Today is a bit better, not so itchy, but there's no way in hell I would show my arm in public.  I'd probably get hauled off to wherever the CDC puts zombies.  And what's up with poison oak in the first place?  What could possibly be Nature's reason for such a diabolical plant?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Stuff

Early this morning--really the dead of night--as I tossed and turned with my scurrilous and angst-filled insomnia, there came a sound like...a fleet of helicopters, or a plague of locusts, or possibly an alien invasion.  It was an endless refrain of whoop whoop whoop that I could in no way identify.

I got up, went downstairs to check the furnace, came back up and checked the fridge, the microwave, the oven, the dishwasher.  I looked under the sink in the kitchen and both bathrooms in case it was some kind of weird broken pipe/water issue.  The whole time I was searching for an answer whoop whoop whoop filled my head.

It's 4:30 in the morning at this juncture, and conceivably I could be the only person aware that aliens are launching an imminent planetary takeover. No question, the sound was coming from somewhere outside.  I went out on the back deck in my pajamas and bare feet and nearly froze in the blast of ice cold wind roaring up from the valley floor. The whoops were louder now, even over the wind and my chattering teeth, but still, I couldn't place the clamor or understand what could possibly be making such a racket at that hour of the night.

I went back to bed, but the constant drone wasn't in the least conducive to sleep. Eventually I must have dozed off, but when I woke up at 7:00 the noise was still there.  I went outside again, and finally figured out where it was coming from.

A few years ago the farmer who owned most of the valley below my house, sold his acreage to a winery.  They have toiled and shaped, planned and plowed.  The tiny little rows of future grapes are just beginning to sprout.  And the temperatures have plummeted into the low 30s.

The windmills generate the necessary hot air to keep the frost at bay.  This is a shot of just two windmills, there are over two dozen down there.  The force of that dozen, the quiet of the night, and the peculiar acoustics that allow sound to rise up the side of my mountain made for a very puzzling, disturbing non-sleep.  Like insomnia isn't bad enough...

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I went out to lunch with my neighbor Bunny today; she was the one who told me what the windmills actually do.  I thought they were watering things, but she said instead of the old-time smudge pots, now growers use these windmills when heat is needed.

And here's a bit of news that made my day: Remember the horrid tribe family and the guy who threatened me awhile back?  Bunny told me the couple are divorcing, the mean evil man has already moved back to Arizona (I would have thought Appalachia) and the rest of the tribe have relocated to another part of town.  Their house will be either rented or sold.  I frankly don't care what happens to the house; it's just such a relief they are off the mountain.  Later tonight I will raise my glass to thank the gods of Deliverance.

After lunch we went to Sports Authority, which has just opened up in the town mall, so I could look at a treadmill.  It's not that I'm overweight, it's more that I don't want to be overweight in the future, and I've decided I'm not getting enough exercise, no matter that I'm hiking with the dogs twice a day.  My dogs aren't exactly the kind that induce serious weight loss.  They stop at every blade of grass, nose every stone, pebble and rock, pee on whatever strikes their fancy and totally ignore me as I grouse in abject frustration, "Come oooooonnnnnnn!"

So, here and there over this past week, I've done some hardcore research and found the perfect treadmill.  Not only was it on sale at a great discount, but when it's delivered next week, I won't have to haul it up two flights of stairs by myself.  I'm marginally excited--it's exercise, peeps.  How excited can I really get?--and I will now be able to walk continuously (with four different inclines and six exercise programs) without stopping or starting every three and half seconds.  I hope.

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I'm falling behind, big time, with my 1000 Cranes project.  I've had 40 in the first stage of folding for the past two weeks and just haven't found the time to finish them. It's going to be April very soon and I have over 800 cranes left to do by the end of the year. Yikes. That's a daunting thought.

I know part of my problem is reading.  Not that I find that a problem in any way, but lately it seems there has been a veritable ocean of books that I've been compelled to read and everything else falls to the wayside.  If it's not authors whose work I love, than it's authors I've just discovered.  Were I to have any kind of addictive personality, it would be over books.  The BFF and I have talked often and long about too many books, too little time.

And on the note...

It's Friday afternoon, chores done, dogs napping, 500 Mile chai brewing and a good book awaits...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy Spring!!

In my little corner of the world, it's a beautiful, sunny day though the breeze is still a bit chilly. Walking along the river this morning I could almost feel the shift of the seasons. Winter's cold breath touched my neck, sending shivers down my spine, but I lifted my face to the sun's warmth, smiled at all the buds and flowers growing everywhere, and laughed at the exuberant dashing and darting of two happy wee dogs.

There's a sense of accomplishment in surviving Winter, isn't there?  A certain smugness, that somehow, against the odds, we're on the other side and still standing.  We might be slightly worn around the edges, even a bit worse for wear, but we made it, dear readers. Winter is officially over and the first day of Spring has arrived...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Moment Along The Way

So, I'm grocery shopping this morning after the dogs' walk.  The store is semi-busy: a few screaming kidlets, vendors stocking shelves, several elder folk...the usual suspects.

Meandering down an aisle, I stopped once to help a tiny, ancient little old lady who was trying to reach something on the top shelf--about two feet above her head.  A couple aisles over, I stopped again to help her lift a case of water from the bottom shelf into her cart.  She was very sweet and thanked me profusely both times, though I assured her it truly wasn't necessary, I was glad to help.

For another few aisles, I pondered the ignominy of getting old, having to face that your options are dwindling, that one day you realize you can't lift certain things, or open them, or just plain do stuff like you used to.  I wondered how she was going to get her groceries in the house, especially that case of water, and hoped there was someone to help when she got home.  I had a fleeting moment where I felt the inexorable weight of time bearing down on me. One day, I will be that little old lady...except taller.

Shaking off my impending doom, I kept shopping, listened to some good tunes over the sound system as I browsed the book racks, then made my way to the yogurt section where once again I met up with the same little woman.  Her cart was blocking my path to the Greek yogurt, but I wasn't in any hurry, so just stood a ways behind her while she made her selections.

When she turned to leave, she suddenly realized I was there waiting.  "Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, "you'll have to forgive an old woman."  She had a look on her face that was...sad, embarrassed, and, I don't know, heartbreakingly resigned to the burden of her years.

"You're only as old as you feel." I said, reaching for my yogurt.

She gave me a little smile.  "Why, yes, you're right, dear."

As I put the yogurt in my cart, I said, "Course, it's a bit hard to believe that when trying to get out of bed in the mornings."

She blinked, then started to laugh.  Her eyes were bright, and her soft, twittering laugh reminded me of little birds and church socials and long-ago days.  We grinned at each other, then she laid her gnarly, knobby fingers on my arm.  "Thank you," she said, "it's been some time since I've had a good laugh."

"My pleasure."  She gave my arm a little pat, then moved on to finish her shopping as I headed in the opposite direction.

I hope she kept smiling, I know I did...

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lion's Turn

The warm and cuddly lamb part of March was short-lived.  After a beautiful--though too hot for me--week where I spent way too many hours outside working, the weather has returned to a typical March climate.  Late yesterday afternoon the first of several squalls rolled across the valley with lashing rain and hail, high winds and sudden bitter cold.  The lion's wild roars continued throughout the night, which was cool really.  I love the sound of rain on the roof when I'm going to's like a lullaby to me.

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Yesterday was my last day to work outside for awhile.  My neighbor volunteered his grandson--a really nice 14-year old--and with his help, I pretty much finished the week of hard graft and agony.  Pretty much.  I still have to mow, and the deer spray is ongoing, but the major tasks are done. Sigh. For now.

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Walking the boys this morning, I had a little glimmer of flash fiction strike me, so came home, wrote it out and posted it over at Scribbles.  Maybe that's all I can do for the moment: baby steps, a few hundred words at a time.  And no doubt it would help my creative juices if I could get off this mountain, expand my horizons. I need a road trip, a holiday, an adventure.

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I wrote awhile back about The First Line, the magazine where you are prompted with a first line and then write a story.  There are four first lines each year.  I missed the first one--"Carlos discovered _________ under a pile of shoes in the back of his grandmother's closet"--mainly because I could imagine far too many things under those shoes and couldn't pick just one.  (Feast or famine in my brain apparently).

On Saturday I got the magazine of the nine writers who were chosen from the many submissions. It's so cool to read what others interpreted for Carlos's discovery; all of them are intriguing and interesting in their own way, and I do so love a good short story.

The next first line, due for submission in May: "Please, Sylvia, give me a moment to think."  I have an idea on this one...and if I can get my head in the game, I'll be working on it.

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I was on the phone with the BFF yesterday when I happened to see this odd little...thing...on the peak of my tallest pine tree out back.  It was so small, I wasn't sure what I was seeing.  Was it a tiny budding pine cone?  I got out my camera and zoomed in.

Nope, not a bud, but a wee hummingbird....

To put him into perspective: With the naked eye he was about the size of my littlest finger. I didn't actually see him clearly until I downloaded this shot to my photo program.  What a handsome fellow...

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Since I purposefully ignored the household chores all last week whilst working outside, I have several tasks that need doing today.  If I quit procrastinating, I can get them finished in short order, then can sit back and relax with my book as the storm clouds play a mesmerizing game with the sun in flickers of light and shadow across the valley floor.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lost In Space

I've lost my brain...well, more specifically, it appears I've lost whatever fuels my creativity and imagination.  Seriously.  Gone baby gone.  I've started to write three separate short stories this month, and discarded two within a day or so after struggling to make them work; I'm not into making things hard on myself these days--life's just too damn short.  My third idea is the one I mentioned a while back that would probably take six installments to tell the story, and I'm fine with that.  In a twisted, torturous way I miss the serial angst from last year.

Except, though this new tale has promise, I'm having some issues with the heroine's reasons to be on the run.  Strangely, I already know who the bad guy is, and how the story ends.  It's just...I just can''s not...


And now we're back to the beginning.  I've lost the plot.  My thoughts drift like smoke with nary a spark of imagery, illusion or inspiration. (Though, drat, it appears I'm having no trouble with alliteration).

Perhaps, just maybe, this third story also isn't worthy, hence why I've been stewing and fretting and not getting on with it. Maybe I should just write a story about not being able to write a---


I think the pilot light just flickered...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'm Hiring A Gardener

Since Tuesday, the weather has been so incredibly warm--unprecedented 70s--that I've had no excuse not to be outside working every day.  I've weeded and mowed, edged and pruned, cleaned out pots and hauled debris, sprayed and raked, groaned and sweated.

The front wasn't as bad as the back, probably because the deer have helped with the pruning.  After working on the front, my last chore was to spray the deer repellent and, of course, just as I got a good stream shooting out of the nozzle, a light breeze kicked in and I got a nice face, mouth and nose full.  When I was finished, I thought about burning my clothes.  Seriously.  This stuff is brutal. Even after hosing out my nostrils, I was still breathing it yesterday.  Ah well.  It might smell like Satan's armpit, but it does the trick.

I quit working around 3:00 yesterday, mainly because after two full days of bending and twisting and pulling and hauling I was so stiff and sore I could barely lift the wine glass to my lips at the end of the day.  And then there's getting out of bed in the mornings, though I've got a rolling-lurching-stagger technique that's fairly effective.

Yesterday, at lunch, my neighbor popped in to bring me a beautiful vase of Clematis that she pruned from her back garden.  The flowers are delicate and beautiful, with an amazing scent.  I'm hoping for some root growth, then I'll find a place to start my own Clematis vines...


Today I worked in the back, and frankly, I'm about ready to place a very large order for gravel or maybe cement.  It's difficult to work because it's steeply sloped, except for the flat part at the bottom for the lawn.  And there are pots and hanging baskets and oak barrels, because it's fenced and the deer can't get in so I've gone overboard with flowers.

When I stopped for the day, I was covered in scratches, sweat and dirt. I stripped off my filthy jeans and tee shirt in the laundry room, then practically crawled up the two flights of stairs to the shower. Where I contemplated the practicality of concrete. I think I got a sunburn March, peeps. March. Though it could also be heat stroke.

Thankfully now, in the late afternoon, it's beginning to cloud over and with any luck at all it will rain for a few days so I can catch my breath before I have to go back out there.

And maybe by then I'll even be able to stand up straight again...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Requiem For A Tree

I've written more than once about my Hallowe'en tree, that great gnarly dead oak that filled the vista from my front porch.  It was part of my landscape, part of the charm of my mountain life, and hosted a veritable menagerie of bird life.

Not only have I written about my love for this tree, but I've photographed it--with and without creatures.

Spring...and it looms majestically over the slope across from my front yard...

 Summer...surrounded by its living relatives...

And a shot just a few weeks ago, eerie and cool, shrouded in the rain and fog...

Last night we had a monumental rain and wind storm.  Pounding rain, rolling thunder, lightning--the whole nine yards.  It was wild and wonderful.

Except this is what I woke up to this morning...

I actually stood at the front window and tried for several seconds to figure out what has wrong with the view...and then suddenly, I realized.  My most beautiful old tree was gone.

No more photos of the wildlife, perched on the welcoming branches; no more walking past the windows to see vultures, hawks or woodpeckers surveying the valley below as they claim a sturdy foothold.

I loved that tree, I loved that it was part of my world, that it served a purpose even after it had died. Now I suppose it will serve a different purpose, not for the creatures that live in the skies, but for those that dwell on the ground.

I should be more pragmatic--ashes to ashes and all that--but dammit, that tree was more than just an ol' dead thing.  I'm so going to miss the twisted, Hallowe'en limbs that framed my view, and the moments when I saw the sun gleam orange-red through the feathers of a hawk fanning its wings, the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker searching for his early morning snack...and the startling vision of a turkey vulture, landing with a six-foot wingspan that took my breath away.

I'm totally crushed.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Picture says it all.  I'm tired, out of sorts, and cranky.  Time should not be messed with...really it shouldn't because what does Daylight Savings actually accomplish anyway? Imagine all the folks across America feeling like I do right now, out driving cars, operating machinery, performing surgeries and procedures.  The mind boggles.

I'm going to go take a nap...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Not Your Mama's Pirates

Have any of you been watching Black Sails, the new series on Starz?  I saw the original trailer clear back last Summer and could hardly wait until January.  When it got close to the premiere, I set the DVR to record so I wouldn't miss anything, then with one thing or another, didn't watch the episodes until last weekend. Which, as it turns out, was the perfect way to do it. I saw all seven shows back-to-back and got totally immersed into the best television I have seen in a very long time.

These pirates are not Johnny Depp.  The series is based on factual events in Nassau in 1715: the real corruption of most British officials, the totally raw and unbelievably grim existence for slaves and prostitutes, and the dog-eat-dog hierarchy of the pirate lords. The plot is character-driven, and though most of these guys (and women!) are sleazy and dangerous and cruel, as the story deepens, we understand the how and why behind several of the main people.

But I should forewarn you, dear readers: This isn't a program for the faint of heart and most definitely isn't Pirates of the Caribbean.  It's a serious portrayal of an incredibly brutal way of life. I cringed, grimaced, sat on the edge of my seat, held my breath, gritted my teeth, covered my eyes and at one point yelled "No! Not Billy Bones!" Beneath the main story--finding and pirating the largest treasure ever to sail a Spanish galleon--there is betrayal and heartbreak, loyalty and camaraderie, love and hate, death and loss.

And honestly, to my mind, storytelling doesn't get much better than this...

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Good To Be Alive" Friday...

After seemingly endless torrential rains, winds and wild storms, today dawned with brilliant blue skies, white fluffy animated clouds, and a warmth in the sun that should not be happening in the first week of March.  The air is fresh and clean, the view from the back deck across the valley is crisp, like my vision has begun to focus again after weeks of misty, foggy vagueness.

As the boys and I strolled along the river path this morning, I had one of those moments where you're just plain glad to be alive.  The dogs were crazy-happy, jumping and running with abandon, while squirrels chattered and scolded from the trees.  I took a deep breath of sunshine and river and damp grass...and tipped my head back to look at the incredible blue of the sky, where I saw a dragon with two tails being chased by an elephant, trunk raised as he raced to catch up.  I could almost hear his trumpet call.  I love clouds like these...clouds that tell stories and fire the imagination and remind me of childhood dreams.

On the drive home, I couldn't help but notice that trees and flowers are suddenly blooming all over hill and dale.  Maybe I've just had my head down for so long to avoid drowning in the rain, but today there is no doubt Spring is here, even if a bit early.

For those of you, dear readers, who are still struggling with the Polar Vortex, or are just getting the rainstorms that plowed through the West this week, headed East, these photos from my garden are to help you remember that Spring is really, truly coming...

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The other day I had an idea for the next Scribbles installment, though the story has already morphed from just a short to a possible six-part tale.  I'm still fiddling with the plot--in my head--and hope to sit down over the weekend to write the first bit.  We'll see how it goes.  Unfortunately, really great weather is expected which means I'll have to spend some lengthy time outside doing chores.  I definitely have to spray the deer repellent stuff before I have no buds or blooms left, should do some serious weeding, and already have to mow the frigging lawn again.  Sigh.

Maybe, with any luck, the fresh air and mindless graft will help solidify my thoughts. That, or more likely I'll spend the weekend moaning and groaning at the sudden backbreaking aches and pains that come from the first gardening work of the season.

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I called two of my neighbor ladies yesterday to share my pie.

What?  Peeps, you actually thought I would eat a whole pie by myself?  Okay.  I could eat a whole pie by myself, but thankfully I have a little more restraint now that my metabolism doesn't function at the speed of light allowing me to eat anything I want with no repercussions.

Bunny went off with a nice wedge to share with her husband, George, though I got the impression he wasn't going to be seeing a single crumb of it, and Jennifer said flat out she was eating the whole thing before her guy got home from work.

So, with that thought, I'm going make myself a cup of tea and enjoy the last piece of what has turned out to be the Husbands Don't Get Any rhubarb pie...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Slice of the Past

I was cruising through the Produce department yesterday whilst grocery shopping and stumbled upon a small cache of rhubarb tucked between lettuce and asparagus. I stopped and stared for a moment or two at the gorgeous deep reds and long stalks.  Visions of making a rhubarb pie beckoned.  I tried to resist the urge and actually walked away.  Okay, I walked about five feet, looked back, imagined that first, tart bite of pie...and fell to temptation.  There's a very short window for rhubarb; it's a pie made just for Spring.  I decided not to waste the opportunity.

My baking skills are pretty average, though if I have a knack for anything, it's pie.  Over time I've figured out the perfect crust--the best part of a pie to my mind--and can make a mouth-watering Lemon Meringue, though my very most favorite pie is from a recipe I got from a little old lady named Hazel.

I used to work at my college bookstore.  At the end of every term, this trio of part-time ladies would come, set up their booth and spend a week buying back the textbooks.  They were sharks, those three.  They knew the price of every used book, could flip through the pages in a nano second, find every mark and notation, and there was no arguing prices.

Hazel was past retirement age, somewhere in her seventies, I think.  She was quick, sharp and had a death ray stare that could bring the biggest jerk to a stuttering halt.  She could also bake like the best granny in the world.  At the end of their week, the ladies would bring treats for the lowly student bookstore workers and we'd have an impromptu "see you next term" party.  

Once she brought her rhubarb pie.  I had never liked rhubarb.  It was too tart, too stringy, too...whatever.  Hazel gave me a slice before I could say no and because she was so sweet--and had that blasted death stare--I took the pie, thinking I would just toss it away when she wasn't looking.  Hah.  She waited for me to have a taste.  With my first bite, my rhubarb-hating life was changed forever.  Her pie was from an old recipe, made for years and years in her family.  And it was beyond delicious.

Needless to say, I begged for the recipe.  Hazel's French Custard Rhubarb was the first pie I ever made and became the one that set me on my course of future pies, techniques, and best crusts.

I came home after shopping, had lunch, and made Hazel's pie.

Ready for the oven...all the juicy custard is oozing through the lattice...

One hour later...

It took all afternoon and into the early evening for the pie to cool.  The wonderful smells of fresh-from-the-oven pie was driving me nuts, but I knew everything had to set before I could cut a slice...

I haven't made a pie since leaving Edinburgh three years ago; even longer since I've made this one.  It felt good to roll the crust, chop the bright red stalks, make the filling.  I thought about Hazel as I worked, and how many times I've made this recipe.

Then finally, last night after dinner, I took my first bite...and closed my eyes to savor the creamy texture of the custard, the crispness of the crust, the tang and bite of the rhubarb.  

It's magical when a blend of ordinary ingredients can combine to make something extraordinary.

Monday, March 3, 2014


I was dinking around this morning whilst having breakfast and stumbled across a quiz to determine what kind of philosopher I might be.  I love these goofy--though somehow compelling--little tests. This one was pretty basic, though question two about Desperate Housewives sort of threw me in terms of figuring out my philosophical bent.


Which Philosopher Are You?

 Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)

My results after taking the quiz:  "You think that everyone should have the right to express their own opinions and be heard. When making ethical decisions, you always try to maximize happiness for the greatest number of people."

I really like being in tune with Jeremy Bentham.  He was a very cool and interesting guy--even if he does look surprisingly like Ben Franklin. He advocated for individual freedoms, like freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality. He called for the abolition of slavery, the death penalty and physical punishment for children; he also vehemently supported animal rights and welfare.  And all of this over two hundred years ago.

Bentham is considered the father of utilitarianism, the belief that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong.

Think about that for a minute, dear readers.

It's not a bad philosophy to have, not bad at all...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mad As A March Hare...

Original illustration by John Tenniel, 1865

March is a good month, though there is a tendency to grow lax at the idea of Spring, officially beginning on March 20th...because we forget the cruelty of April is lurking just around the corner.

In this lovely interlude, the counterfeit Time Lords will once again enforce Daylight Savings, next weekend actually. The back and forward changes are so close together now, that really, why do we bother? This is such an archaic thing...right up there with still using Roman numerals, which I totally do not understand. At all.

We will celebrate St Patrick's Day, though our reverence will come, not with religious fervor, but with copious amounts of beer (no accident this oasis of frivolity is in the middle of Lent). Rivers will turn green, and everyone will suddenly become Irish.

[Here's a bit of folklore: St Patrick was actually born in Wales, but was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped but later returned as a missionary...and became a legend.]

Next comes the Spring Equinox, when daylight at last equals the hours of darkness. The early flowers--bluebells and lily-of-the-valley and snowdrops and grape hyacinth and daffodils--begin to brighten the landscape. There's warmth in the sun and a tender hope in the air.

We should revel in the brief joy of March. It's a month of celebration and promise, a month when we realize, deep in our primordial memory, that we've survived another Winter, that better days are coming.  We should laugh and be silly and be as mad as the Hare, or the Hatter...

Because April is coming.