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Good Books Make Great Gifts:

Paradise Ridge and When the Horses Come and Go make excellent gifts for those who love the American West and a great story. Readers tell me they can't put down Paradise Ridge. It absorbs their attention to the final sentence. When the Horses Come and Go is a charming tale in poetry about how an appaloosa mare connects a mother with her adolescent daughter. Both books are available at Amazon.com.

In My Humble Opinion

At first, I titled this page "Rants," an occasional blog of opinions. Then a flash of insight whupped me up the head and reminded me that, not only does the planet already have more than enough jugheads spraying their socio-political buckshot around the countryside, the world certainly doesn't need mine. Soooo, I've turned this space into "Raves." If something turns me on, blows me away or knocks me out, (gee, guess which generation I come from) it's going to appear here.
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Farewell Overland Pass

camp on Overland PassIt took most of the morning to load the Jeep for our yearly trek to Overland Pass West to support the Pony Express Re-Ride. After a seven-hour drive, we arrived just before sunset with enough energy to set up our tent, cots, etc. in what amounted to F1 gale force winds.
With each pull of muscle and ache in joint, I wondered how could I tell Jeff this was the last time I wanted to do this. Within minutes, though, he announced it himself. And throughout the two days there, as the wind relentlessly battered our camp, he repeated his resolve to find a more congenial spot to set up HAM radio equipment ... somewhere we could haul the teardrop trailer.
This was a bittersweet realization for me. I love the beauty of this wild place. This year especially, wildflowers and bits of grasses covered the rocky landscape. A swath of yellow emblazoned the mountainside. Brilliant sunshine showed details of the valley below I hadn't noticed in the two previous years. I hated to leave, yet the beating we and the Jeep take to get there, the packing of everything needed to survive and do our jobs, as well as the stormy conditions had finally convinced us we're both getting too old and tired for this place.
view to the eastAdmitting to ourselves we're getting too old for this is particularly hard because our predecessors, Will and Phyllis, are in their eighties, bent and dotty, and were covering Overland Pass for decades before we took the spot. I'm 64 and Jeff's 56! We're too old.
We've also lived sedentary lives, barely walking more in the past few years than from the computer to the kitchen to the TV. I at least tend to chickens and gardens on our acre plot, sometimes run the cattle dogs in the nearby desert. Even so, arthritis is a persistent suitor. Exercise eventually becomes injury, making it difficult to roust myself to activity.
I'll miss the people we meet at Overland Pass. From Overland eastward to the Utah border, the Shellbourne Re-Riders out of Ely, NV cover all the Pony route. Many of them work in the cattle or mining industries and are country people to the core, -- fresh and down-to-earth and a delight to spend hours with until the mail arrives.
We learn a lot about each others lives in those hours. This year, our guests were Gino, 70, and his granddaughter's boyfriend, Joseph, sixteen. What fun to listen to these two banter in good-natured fun about their views of aging and learning. Joseph told us so much about his life in McGill, NV where he lives with his mother and stepfather. He was adopted by his grandfather and received a lot of loving support and fathering from that man before he died. In high school proficiency exams, Joseph was first in science and third in reading out of over four hundred students. He's really excited about working in that big mine across the valley from our camp.
Joseph also rides with the Shellbourne crew as well as acting as a train robber in another group that Gino works with. The love between this kid and his horse was a joy to see. This was Joseph's first Pony ride and, as the night wore on, he became aware of the arduous task ahead of him. With Gino, he would pick his way down the gnarly, rocky track to the bottom of the mountain where their horse camp was. Gino would continue to the mail transfer site a few miles further down the main road.
Then Joseph would ride a couple of other shorter, easier stretches of the Pony Express Route. He was fading fast just thinking about it. We allowed him to doze while Gino and I talked about the possibility of someone from the Shellbourne Re-Riders providing horse and rider support after we leave.
I'm not sure what Will and Phyllis did during their years of offering radio coverage, but while Jeff manned the radios, I offered water and apples to the horses and coffee and food to the riders. We also erected an enclosed area for them to hang around out of the constant wind and cold of Overland Pass.
Just imagine riding in daylight to acquaint yourself with a rocky mountain road to wait at the pass for a rider to come from the opposite side and transfer a heavy mochila of mail. That rider may be early or late. You and your horse are standing there for hours in the dark, trying to stay warm and hydrated, while cougars circle just out of sight. And it's always cold and windy. At least this year, it didn't rain!
I feel personally responsible to the horses and riders that ride this section of the Pony. So to leave this post without follow-up personnel to continue is difficult for me to do.
Next morning, we took nearly five hours repacking everything in the Jeep and bumping down the track. After lunch in Eureka, possibly for the last time at our favorite cafe, we drove six hours home. It was so wonderful to get home safely, to warm up our chilled bodies, and sleep in our soft, cozy bed.
I guess leaving Overland Pass itself is like spending magical hours with riders, peeking into someone else's very different life, then suddenly they ride off so quickly we can't say a proper goodbye. Hugs aren't even possible. How many times does that happen in life anyway. We have moments of laughter and comraderie with people, then circumstances wrest them away, never to be seen again.
Maybe that's one reason, on a very subliminal level, the Pony Express Re-Ride continues to fascinate people. It's an etherial sport, happening so quickly and over such a vast arena, that spectators can't really watch it. Thus, it also becomes a metaphor for the transience of our lives, people coming and going so quickly, their gifts to us are all that much more precious.
As I watched Joseph and Gino disappear into the darkness on that full-moon night, I managed to yell "Safe ride, you guys. Happy trails!" I wonder if they heard me? -- 6-15-2014


Everett Needs a Home

As anyone can imagine, volunteering at an animal shelter encourages one to pull the truck up to the cat room and load-em-up. Usually, I can watch cats come and go, often forgetting names and faces as time zooms by. Some cats, though, tug at the old heartstrings.
EverettThis little guy is a mini-me of my beautiful Buda, adopted in January from the Douglas County Animal Care and Shelter. Same long black fur, same golden eyes that pierce my heart, same shy, calm, loving personality. I wish I could take Everett home to bedevil the dogs, but the roiling would only increase. And I can't stand that.
Oh, how I yearn for the peace and calm of cats instead of the chaos and turmoil created by cattle dogs. Every time I stir in my chair, great barking, spinning around, and major drama occurs. You can imagine the explosion that happens when I actually arise. I put on my sunglasses or even look at the egg collecting basket, and the house quakes with high-decibel excitement. Oh, for the peace and calm....
Maybe it's just my advancing old age, but knitting in my chair with a cat upon my lap is much more pleasant than having a squirmy border collie worming her way toward my face to lick my mouth. YACK!
While it took time, Buda has ensconced himself as head of the menagerie. He has even taken over the dog bed by the bedroom slider, much to the consternation of the dogs, who rarely used it anyway. BUT IT'S THE PRINCIPLE!
Recently, we pet-sat Val's Miss Kitty while Val traveled to Atlanta. By the end of the week, Miss Kitty had taken the reins from Buda's paws and whipped those dogs into shape. Actually, she was the one who took over the dog bed, leading the way for Buda's growing hubris. Miss Kitty will be visiting again soon, and will most likely return much later as a permanent member of our family. Afterall, the cattle dogs once belonged to Val. Tradition prevails.
This morning, the border collie chased Buda around the bedroom. Buda took the shortcut to his safe room by bounding over our bed, and Jeff's chest. Luckily, the collie didn't follow him.
So, you can see, bringing Everett into this fray would be madness. Yet I hate to see this little man becoming a shelter cat. He deserves a lap of his own. -- 5-2-2014


Happy Hands at Home . . . Sorta

There's a term a former sewing instructor used to describe articles that weren't sewn quite up to standard: Happy Hands at Home. That's sort of how I feel as I examine, cut threads, and repair little glitches in my just finished kaleidoscope quilt.
The success here is that I, indeed, finished the damned thing. What as ordeal! Hercules with his trials never had a tougher time. Okay! I exaggerate, but only a little.
At least Buda likes this quilt. In fact, whenever I left it spread, or rather dumped, on the work table, Buda would make himself quite comfortable for his naps. Now the quilt also has a faint patina of black hair in places.
Starting a new quilt is always a blast. New fabrics. New patterns, New creative ideas and skills to learn. At Norma's monthly sew-day at her home, one of the ladies, Myra, taught us how to cut and sew kaleidoscope effects. This pattern turns a fabric motif around and inside itself until you can barely see what exactly the original design was.
kaleidoscope patternAs you can see in this photo, the complete flower on the left can become the slashed pattern on the right. The fabric needs to have repeating patterns of various shapes, sizes, and colors and limited background in order to make it work well. Florals like the one I used work really well.
Cutting requires very precise layout and folding and pinning to secure the desired pattern in the proper place. I deal extremely well with such exacting standards. Of course, I'm being sarcastic here. I've frustrated many a teacher with my wild and free mind and inability to follow directions. Luckily, Myra carefully walked us through the entire method so we'd get it right.
close=up of squaresHere is a close-up of the kaleidoscope squares. I found a good contrasting solid for framing that would pop them out as well as pick up a similar blue in the main fabric. Then I framed this further with strips of the original fabric to show the print from which the kaleidoscopes were formed.
I could've gone the easy route and simply bound the quilt in the normal fashion, but I wanted to use prairie points. These are fun and remarkably easy to make with the special ruler from quickpointsruler.com. There's even a nice little video to show you how easy it is to make these. It's a fun edge, but it was tricky for me to put in.
Granted, sewing this quilt for anyone else may be without the travail that usually accompanies my sewing efforts. Between my machine rebelling at every turn, thread breaking, fabric not bending in the right places, pins and roller blades poking and nicking, my little world was going crazy. I think this runs in my family. I recall how Mom's sewing machine lanquished by the window. She sewed a bit now and then. And when we cleaned out the house upon her death, I swiped the most wonderful little notion case, needle package, and other bits and pieces that date back to the 1940s at least. She had been sewing various household things for decades, but needle arts drove my mother to distraction as they often do with me now.
I've thought seriously lately of giving up, but when I see the piles of beautiful fabrics in my collection and think of the crazy laughter and silliness with the quilters, I just can't stop. And each time I finish a project, there truly is a bit of pride, not just in the triumph of finishing it, but that I made that!
That alone is cause for celebration. I've learned to finish projects. Unlike some quilters, I don't have a whole room dedicated to UFOs: UnFinished Objects. I've made it a personal policy to finish one project before going on to another one, no matter how much I hate the damned thing.
No, I've got to keep going. The more I do this stuff, the better I'll get at it. At least, that's the mantra that I repeat under my breath between the F...bombs. I hope the quilters won't become so distressed by my sailor's language that they'll ban me from the group. In fact, maybe Norma will allow me to come with knitting needles instead.
As for this quilt, I'll show it to the quilters at the next gathering, then roll it up and give it to my friend's shawl ministry up in Truckee. They can give it to some elderly soul with poor vision to lay over his or her lap. It'll be good for that. And that's all that matters anyway. -- 4-6-2014


Cats In - Cats Out

kitten silhouettesYeah, I've heard the sob stories on TV and in the news as well as on the animal grapevine. Cats are so difficult to adopt out. They remain in shelters for years. The kennels are over-flowing and the fosterers are, themselves, being raided for having far too many cats. Hmmmm.....
For some reason, the Douglas County Animal Care and Shelter, with its volunteer affiliate, D.A.W.G., don't fit this description at all. My head is spinning as I watch cats come in and out of that place. In fact, sometimes I can't "watch" them because some cats come and go before I get the pleasure of making their acquaintance.
The only exception I've known since volunteering to socialize cats last December are the two kittens pictured above. Missy and Cinder were litter mates rescued last summer from a cat hoarder when they were really young. In the photo, they're about four months old.
In March, they finally found their forever homes. It was a bittersweet time for me because I'd gotten a tad accustomed to their little faces and their playful antics around the Cat Room. It's been really quiet ever since.
In the meantime, however, we've received several kittehs whose stays were so short, I can't even attach names to furry faces. "Tito? Oh yeah, he was the grey ... ummm...."
Daily, I check our the D.A.W.G. website Adoptable page to see who's new and who's gone. This last week, two new cats came in and before their photos could be posted, they were gone. PUFF! I never got to meet them.
BudaI usually volunteer on Mondays and Tuesdays, leaving a long stretch of week without kennel kitties. Luckily, I have Buda to satisfy my feline fix, but I still miss the cats at the shelter. And in a week, a lot can happen. Missy and Cinder disappeared during one of these periods, so I couldn't pet them goodbye, even though I celebrated for their good fortune.
Today, I arrived just in time to see Tessanne off to her new home, leaving me with Obi, a grumpy old man who becomes a real love sponge, but only on his terms. He's been with us for quite a while and needs a special human who will understand his need for personal space. And the other two cats still in the Cat Room were Sandy, who won't let me pick her up AT ALL unless I use a blanket to protect myself; and a new tabby named Sparky. He's brand new and huddled in his kennel in a, pardon me, catatonic state. I pet his head, but he didn't respond. It takes some cats a while to deal with the upheaval in their lives. By next Monday, he'll probably be all over me with head bumps, that is, if he's still there.
Speaking of head pumps, Leonard is a lovebug one-year-old tabby who quickly purred his way into my heart. When his kennel emptied, I was thrilled yet sad not to see him again. Then, Karen, the vet tech, told he had bitten someone and was in quarantine. Today, I saw him for a moment while fetching a water container in his quarantine room. He looked at me as if to say "Why did they put me in here all by myself?" He has the place to himself, but again, he doesn't understand.
Unfortunately, cat bites are really dangerous, can go septic and kill a person in a surprisingly short time. Despite his normally gentle disposition, he received a little too much cuddling from a volunteer and her child and let one of them have it.
Thankfully, this is not a kill shelter. They do all they can to save these animals. Even Obi, who was untouchable when he first arrived, was given a chance to calm down and show us all his loveable side. That was a close one, though. Karen told me they were wondering how they could even handle him long enough to break his neck. YAK! By his own fighting skill, he was saved from a fate caused by his nastiness.
I fully expect Obi will be waiting for me to release him from his kennel next Monday. By then, though, Sparky may be gone as well as his "home mates" from where he came. They haven't even arrived yet, but at the rate the shelter finds homes for these cats, I may never meet them either.
My head is spinning. And I'm wondering what other shelters are doing that prevents their cats from swinging through the revolving door of adoption. -- 4-1-2014


Is List-Making a Disease?

upside-down house in Lee ViningI just finished, finally, my scrapbook of our travels along Highway 395. Okay, that was fun. I feel so relieved that the project is done. Now what!
And no, that's not a question.
So, I sit down and make a list of other projects that have been waiting, not so patiently nagging me from a growing pile in the corner. Boxes of photos, reams of poems, cubbyholes full of yarn and fabric, and many plot lines rummaging around in my head. Thoughts nag too. When are you going to tell my story?
And yes, that IS a question. When am I going to get to these things?
We all have these little voices nagging us, don't we. We're not schizophrenic, although there's undoubtedly a pharmaceutical company that has just the pill for us. No, the proper remedy for this irksome problem, especially as we advance in age, is The List.
Jeff and I have always been list-makers. It's how we anticipated post-high school graduation; how we designed our careers; how we plan our weekends so that our Danish Angst will be appeased so we can go out and do something fun.
This weekend when Jeff confessed he hadn't accomplished everything on his to-do list, I told him, as I always tell myself, that if I finish half the items on my list, it is a good day. He agreed maybe that was right. Then I added, lists help us get started. They're not the target, but the scope.
So, if we don't want to end up like this little house in the photo, we can use lists to lay the track, then keep us on that track, whether or not there's a goal at the end.
Sometimes, we just want to fill our leisure time with worthwhile tasks and activities. Plan out the day so we can make the best use of it. That's especially important as we age. We don't have time to squander like the young immortals we brought into the world.
Often, we need a list to break down a huge, intimidating goal into bite-sized pieces. Completing each item on such a list is more easily managed and much more gratifying, especially when we knock down that last bit and accomplish the big-mother-of-all-goals.
For example, we who follow Bob Boze Bell, editor of True West magazine, on his forum find that, to produce one of his books, he plots out each page on a grid (another form of The List) and dispatches one or more each day. That includes paintings and text. He celebrates each time he finishes a grid before moving on to the next one. Little by little, day by day, he moves methodically toward the finished project. As an editor, he has learned the value of such discipline and organization.
But for some people, The List appears to be The Thing. It not only guides, it creates self-importance, followed by angst. "I didn't finish all the stuff on my list." Okay, start with those tomorrow and then add other items.
"But I have tons of stuff on tomorrow's list and I'm just not getting anything done!" Yes, you are. Just look at all the crossed-out items on today's list. What's REALLY important for tomorrow?
"OMGOMGOMG, everything I do is important. It's all critical path. The world will end...." And if it ends, then what? Break open a beer and make a post-apocolypse list. That will be handy.
"You just don't get it! I can't live without a list. I hate surprises and unpredictables. I've got to stick to the list or everything in my life falls apart. I'm an utter failure! I just can't cope!
I'm only half kidding here. I had a roommate like this.
So, I will share a statement I heard on TV the other night in reference to a local commissioner who is leaving the area. Lots of people wonder how to replace this indispensable man. The quoted gentleman said "graveyards are full of indispensable men."
When it comes down to it, everyone's important andindispensable. Odd, I know, but life goes on with or without us. Likewise, The List is important, but it eventually gets crumpled up and thrown away as new items arise and new lists are made on fresh paper. So, break open that beer or wine bottle, settle back, look at that half-crossed-out list and celebrate a good day's work.
The only people who will be peeved by this attitude will be the pharmaceutical companies. -- 3-10-2014


Sunset Upon Orosko

entrance photos to OroskoThe lights change subtly in Restaurante Orosko to simulate sunset in the tiny Basque village for which it is named. Last Sunday, however, sunset closed upon the restaurant forever as new owners of John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks, NV decided to close this beautiful venue.
Jeff and I have fond memories of dining at Orosko. We celebrated our anniversaries, which is on July 4th; then go outside to enjoy the fireworks that the Nugget would launch from its hotel towers. Twice, we met the Ascuaga family and chatted with John and his son, Steven.
central aisleThe first time, an extremely short man walked past our table followed by a prepubescent girl not much shorter than he. "That's John Ascuaga!" I whispered to Jeff after recognizing this local icon from his TV ads. I couldn't believe how tiny he was.
In his dinner party were three exquisite women and three restless little girls, all dressed in lacy dresses and patent leather slippers. The girls were trying their best not to disturb other diners, but the siren of fireworks was just too potent.
Their father, Steven, can over to us as we were leaving and apologized for the girls' behavior. We laughed, knowing how difficult it is for children to endure parents' need for after-dinner conversation. And our conversation added to their interminable wait.
Jeff in OroskoAlas, Restaurante Orosko was NOT Chuckie Cheese's. Thank goodness! It was a splendid environment, lush with greenery, stonework, and photographs celebrating Basue culture and food from Biscaya - the Bay of Biscay. A bronze statue outside on the corner of the building told the story of a Basque shepherd sheltering a lost lamb and his sheepdog under his coat as he hiked homeward through the rain. Rather than a dining venue, Restaurante Orosko paid homage to John's immigrant parents and the history of Basques in the American West.
John's parents packed their hardy work ethic in their satchels. Inheriting it, John built a huge casino-hotel-restaurant complex that served as a beacon of rest and recreation to travelers coming from the east. Bringing his children in to learn the hospitality trade, John has also encouraged growth and redevelopment in a community plagued by industrial blight.
Justin and JeffAs John entered his eighties, though, he probably figured he'd rather spend more time at his gorgeous ranch in the corner of Carson Valley, which reminds me of our second encounter with John, who stopped at our table for a short chat. When he learned we had recently moved to Minden, he exclaimed, "Oh, we're neighbors. I have a beautiful commute from there."
We wondered if the rumors were true: did he drive himself to work in an old pickup truck, or did he ride in a limo? Somehow, we couldn't see him in the limo, regardless of his community stature.
We've enjoyed his restaurant many times and were sad to read that it was closing. "How can they do that? It's such a beautiful, upscale place. Wonderful food. Superlative waitstaff. It's unique anywhere, but so appropriate for this area."
meSo, last Saturday, we donned our dressy duds and drove an hour to Sparks to enjoy one last meal at Orosko. There was a good crowd, so we waited in the bar, drinking picons. A musician sang adequately on the other side of the room.
Soon, we were escorted to our table and decided to blowout the budget on this one. We wouldn't be able to match this dinner ever again. Wine, tapas, dinner, dessert. Eat slow and take our time. Enjoy the ambience because it's going away.
Our waitstaff, Joel and Justin, deftly served us, answering our questions about wine and, in time, about the closure itself. They told us that people had a hard time finding the venue, tucked in a quiet corner opposite the casino clatter and din. More's the loss for people who couldn't make the effort. They missed something truly unique.
The men weren't anxious about the closing. Justin would be moved to the Oyster Bar. I recall vaguely Joel saying he'd be working in the new sushi bar. Oh goody, another sushi bar in Reno. How special!
I was blown away by the new owners' decision, but at least the venue will remain for weddings and holiday parties. It's sad though. If it doesn't bring in wads of money for those occasions, a truly Nevada ethnic restaurant will disappear with its creator. The corridors and casinos of the Nugget no longer see John and Steve attending to business with their staff and customers.
And as of Sunday night, the lights faded into sunset for the last time. -- 2-17-2014


Beatles Mark Half Century

"I was fourteen years old..." begins my very short article for Yahoo!'s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan's show. But what can one say about the Beatles' in 400 words?
Last night's Grammy tribute, which included Paul and Ringo's energetic reunion as the finale, marked their influence on the music and musicians, but all of us and our country were seized by a Renaissance that thundered through the next twenty years, at least.
Oh, there had been rumblings of change even before that night, but the blast of fresh air from Liverpool blew open the gates unlocked by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Buddy Holly, and Elvis. Change in social mores, fashion, personal self-direction, and freedom in all things, stampeded through that gate until now we take many things for granted that used to be hotly contested taboos.
Just an example: does anyone feel the same huge generation gap between themselves and their children that we felt between us and our parents? Are there still remnants of that running in our families? I struggled with my family's racial and class prejudices until I moved to California and discovered that free and funky state had many layers of their own prejudices awaiting me.
I thought I had cast off my parent's taboos for a much more accepting mindset; then I talk to my sister and realize she is the carrier of the Flame of Hatred and Suspicion. Some things linger, but as I looked at the faces in that audience last night, I was thrilled with the overall changes.
The camera flashed on a young, radiant mixed-race couple. So common these days, but when I was fourteen, the racial lines were drawn hard and clear, as were expectations of one's marital, career, and philosophical lifeline. I cringe to think of my parallel universe had I married the boy my mother had chosen for me. Not quite an arranged marriage, but he and I acquiesced to an arranged date. Then, he went his way, I went my way, and my mother sobbed when his wedding announcement appeared in the paper.
"You missed the boat," she snapped as she threw the article at me. "No, I didn't," I said calmly. I was always a rebellious and ungrateful child.
The Beatles had already influenced my thinking and goals. While I didn't follow them past "Norwegian Wood," their attitudes of self-determination urged me to follow my own path. One did not normally do that in the Mormon world of 1960s Salt Lake City. I put aside my piano lessons and mom's dream of me playing the organ in church, and picked up a guitar and sang my own songs.
In high school, I joined other singers and formed the folk music club. My friend, Donna Wellman, and I wrote several songs. I'd come up with a melody and, as I hummed and strummed, she would write the lyrics on lined note paper. I still have those sheets of poetry, but my melodies are blowing in the wind somewhere out there.
While I was a bust in a couple of concerts our club sponsored, (it's too humiliating to tell here) my guitar and I met other folks in Santa Cruz when I arrived in 1979. I wrote a song that buzzed everybody in our little Baha'i community so much, it became the Santa Cruz County Baha'i wedding song. I sung it in everybody's wedding but my own. And a friend wrote down the musical score which I have kept with my lyrics. It is my musical grand opus as well as my swan song.
Marriage, baby, life in general, and writing stories consumed any musical career I might have pursued. Actually, my total lack of talent and will to build such a career consumed it. Not only am I rebelious and ungrateful, I'm a coward and a dilettante. When my head aches from banging against a wall, I find another wall.
At this point in life, though, I can say that I did tackle my dreams. Every one of them. Some succeeded and some went nowhere. Some people get so wrapped up in stuff that they allow their dreams to die from neglect. I can truthfully say that I faced most of my fears, made a total ass of myself in front of other people, and went as far as I knew how and had courage to go. And these days, I'm successful because I'm doing what I want to do, not what someone else thinks I should do.
So, last night, I sat in my comfortable home in a pleasant place with my loving husband and bounced in my barcalounger to the energetic and happy rhythms of The Beatles' songs. I enjoyed watching Yoko Ono dancing in the aisles. And I got a huge charge out of Ringo bouncing and running around the stage, leading the audience in a chorus of "Yellow Submarine." In fact, I was amazed at Ringo's joy and stamina. That man is nearly 75 years old, and he's still kickin' it! He made Paul look like a wrinkled, old codger. (And Paul's still spry himself.)
Was it the music itself that buoyed them above their years? Did they both collapse when they returned home? They all, their ladies included, looked so young and vital and filled with joy.
Maybe one element is that they followed their dreams, found the right people to make it go way beyond the norm, and challenged tradition with their faith and love. Despite their difficulties and heartbreaks, The Beatles endured and brought joy to the world. Change was already happening in the background. The Beatles brought us JOY! -- 2-10-2014



snow covered yard swing and yardAfter nearly two months without any moisture and record-breaking warm temperatures, the Sierra Nevada and western Nevada finally received a healthy blanket of really wet snow. A Pineapple Express from the Pacific Ocean pushed a persistent high pressure system off the coast of California and is bringing two wet storms with it.
Listening to the weather reports has been a disheartening process, probably just as much for the weatherman as for the viewers. Bad news is bad news; and we wondered if it would ever turn good. In fact, I wondered if the two storms promised for this week would actually pan out. In the past, such reports petered out to disappointing "no-shows."
chaise lounge covered with over six inches of snowSometimes, the snow and rain doesn't even reach our banana belt location on the eastern side of Carson Valley. We can watch it fall on the Carson Range, but it rarely comes much closer. This morning, we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to several inches of snow that is so wet that today's Reno Gazette-Journal reported the Desert Research Institute would be firing up its five Tahoe area cloud-seeding devices to squeeze more moisture out of this storm.
As you can see, though, we have received over a half foot of snow already. And this is just the beginning. After this opening act, there is an even bigger, wetter storm predicted. We're all hoping that storm will exceed expectations and dump its wealth upon us. And may the gods leave the gates open for a stampede of more big, bullish storms to come our way. It's been almost insulting to hear about the storms in the eastern half of the country. But that's the way the jet stream seems to work: when the West is wet, the East is dry, and vice versa.
birds at snow-bound feederThis morning when I filled the bird feeders, I had to dump heavy, wet snow out of the pans. It was then still drizzling, but soon the drizzle became another wave of snow. I decided to stay home from pilates and the animal shelter today because I didn't want to share the road with drivers not used to icy conditions. And let's face it, I may have spent sixteen years driving in Truckee conditions, but I've become complacent here in Carson Valley. I could probably get around all right, but then there's everybody else, especially those soccer moms taking their kids to school on Buckeye Lane.

snowy chicken coopYesterday, knowing this storm would make outdoor work sloppy and unpleasant, I filled the chickens' food and water containers so I wouldn't have to come down for a day or two. We've also gotten five eggs in the past three days, so I may have to check the nests anyway. With this change in the weather, though, I wonder if they will lay eggs. They've gotten so spoiled this year, these sudden storms are going to be a shock to their little systems. Maybe they really don't have much control over such things. When there's an egg to be laid, it WILL be laid. Meanwhile, they have fresh straw to burrow into and a warm shelter to keep them all dry.

trees laden with snowWhen we lived in Truckee, wet snow like this was truly a pain in the neck. Literally. It clogged the snowblower, and at least an inch or two stuck tenaciously to the pavement, turning to ice later. Here in Minden, the environment is so thirsty, this sloppy snow will soon sink into the earth and recharge the aquifer. While we have watered the fruit trees a bit, this storm will replenish a bit of badly needed moisture for summer's fruit season.
Also, perhaps the chill hours will increase for the fruit trees. Temps this year have been high during the day and below freezing at night. That sweet spot between 35 and 45 degrees, the chill zone, probably hasn't stayed long enough to properly chill the trees. Jeff has wondered if they'll blossom at all next spring. I'm hoping we won't get another snowstorm during blossom time like last year. We got two snowstorms last winter: one just before Christmas and one in spring, killing the blossoms.

a snowy worldWe can only hope that the river of Pacific moisture plowing through our area will continue to flood us with this rich and wonderful bounty. Drought is a slow disaster. On the surface, it's great to be warm and run around in shorts, t-shirts, and sandals in January; but later we pay for our pleasures with diminished crops and wildfires.
It took a week or two, but the Washo snow dance worked upon the good graces of the Universe. I'm grateful for this magic and to whatever is making it happen. Let's hope we get a couple more months of this stuff. We have lots of empty reservoirs and lakes to fill. -- 1-30-2014


Gotta Write Somethin'

Buda diningFor those of us who have blissfully settled into retirement, winter brings a time of quiet repose and productive indolence. That is, I've become so damned lazy, I don't produce much.
My habit and indeed my responsibility to my blog readers has been to write something once a week, hopefully something worth reading, or at least cogent. With the onset of January, that's been a challenge. The only real news is the acquisition of Buda, who you see here enjoying his evening repast with a side order of catnip.
He's doing fine. The dogs are coping. And I'm beginning to sound like a shrewish mother screaming at her unruly children.
After watching a documentary about J.D. Salinger, though, writing about my animals feels as banal and silly is the countless kitty videos that eat up a lot of my time. Pretty pitiful. I'm sure my friends are bored unto bonkerdom with such tales.
A bunch of us quilters did have a fun day learning how to piece a kalaidoscope square and I'll write more on that when I've sewn my squares together and can show a photo of what such a thing looks like. But not right now. I just didn't want leave out a mention of that giggle fest, though, because it did brighten an otherwise MEH! January.
Even the weather's been a no-show. While the eastern half of the United States is getting bombed with snow and below freezing temperatures, we in Minden are cruising around in shorts and flip-flops. Temps in the high fifties are making it very difficult to remember what month it is. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in Arizona, without the thunderstorms.
It's also very difficult to complain about such weather. I've become allergic to cold and wind and would prefer to let the chickens scratch the ground for their living on blustery days. Instead, they've grown fat and feathered from all the goodies I've been able to bring them on these gorgeous, shirt-sleeve days.
Makes me think of that line in The Shootist where the reporter asks John Books if he's enjoying Carson City's salubrious climate. (The online dictionary says salubrious means "condusive to health and well-being.") Well yeah-howdy! I've been feeling better ever since we moved here, but this winter has gotten a little too salubriouse. It's worrisome when we all think of what's to come.
Then again, those of us who live in the West should know by now that desertification has been going on for millennia. Jeff's friend, Rick, whose mechanical know-how helps the astronomers at the Western Nevada College Observatory, told me that the Great Basin has had several "mega-drought's" lasting about two hundred years at a time. That's several generations of people for one drought. That could be what's going on now.
So, should I worry? Will our wells run dry? How many veggies can we grow this summer?The ranchers are already stressed and have been for a couple of years now. Our neighbor, a rice farmer from Sacramento, told us that growing rice takes less water than it does to grow cattle. Even when the rice fields are fallow, the standing water in them provides habitat and refuge for migrating birds. I've seen flocks of egrets etc. on these "ponds" whenever we drove to Chico to visit Val at college.
Dilemas? Well, there goes the salubrious and lazy winter daze. It's time to worry and be concerned about lifestyle changes and food habits and .... We don't eat that much beef, believe it or not. Nor that much rice either. If I feed Jeff anymore kale and chard, he'll turn green.
Anyway, it's food for thought, if you'll pardon the expression. And I managed to eke out a little something of more consequence to write about this week. -- 1-23-2014


New Addition to Menagerie

Tar-BeauRecently, I volunteered to socialize (pet) cats at the Douglas County Animal Shelter. It was initially a way for me to get my cat fix without endangering a cat's life by bringing it home to live. One month later, I couldn't resist and adopted a beautiful cat named Tar. He's huge and weighs a ton, so I figured he wouldn't be as easily harmed by the cattle dogs.
Both Buzz and Cinch were seized by a thread of dingo DNA and went into frenzy mode. They haven't caught him yet, but focus is a major trait in these dogs.
How do you calm the natural tendency of a border collie, an insane one at that, whose nature is to herd animals into a bunch and then eat them? I should have adopted a herd of cats. That would've been fun.
As she did with Snigglefritz, circumambulating the couch seventeen times while Snigs sat in Buddha-state upon its cushions, she circled the barcaloungers as I cuddled Tar in my lap. Ignoring my experience with this dog, I hoped she would eventually get bored with the new kitty-cat. It may take years, but hope beats a bullet to her brain. Unfortunately, I've actually thought of that.
As Karen, the shelter manager, advised me, I cordoned off my office/studio as Tar's new home. He's got a cubby to retreat to, a wide-open litter box, a food bowl located upon a cabinet to keep it safe from the insatiable dingo dog, Buzz, and a nearly constant proximity to me, his Guardian. (This should help me break my writing blocks, etc.)
Karen told me that having this private space for any adopted cat helps it slowly enter into the household. A lot of cats hide, sometimes for months, before they emerge and join the roiling brew that is family. One cat I adopted years ago hid for a month before I finally dragged him out of his hidey-hole and brought him to bed with me. From that night forward, he was engaged in life.
With Tar, all went well until we took the dogs with us to go for ice cream. Instead of closing him in the office, I thought he'd now have a safe opportunity to explore the house. When we returned, the dogs immediately raced to the bedroom wing, trapping poor Tar under our bed. A king-sized bed!
So, we all retired for the night. Usually, Cinch and Buzz are feuding for positions on the bed, but this night, they both wanted to patrol the floor. And of course, all hell broke loose when Tar tried to run for his own room. The chaos wrenched us both from a deep sleep and sent us on the fool's errand of searching the house for the cat. For Pete's Sake, he stayed under the bed until we were able to push him out with a broom, not something I wanted to do.
Harmony has been re-established now. Tar and I are safely in my office. He's purring and exploring all the lovely cat places I've prepared for him, including my computer desk where I'm trying to write this around his huge, gorgeous, beautiful self. You've seen all the cute cat videos of such activities. Well, now I don't have to watch them anymore. I've got the real deal right here.
Oh, and in case the name Tar offends anyone's sensitivities, I've changed his name to Beau, although there was a moment or two when I thought Boo, is in Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird would fit his shy personality. When he's with me, though, he's anything but shy.
I'll continue petting cats at the shelter. Seeing people find their forever friends is fun and rewarding. And I'm really happy that I was able to join their club. -- 1-8-2014


Building Holiday Traditions

It's taken over thirty years for us to build family holiday traditions. I don't know if other families take that long; I've always been a slow learner anyway. We did manage to pull it together this Christmas.
Val and Jeff at holiday dinner tableWhen I was a child, Mom always put on a sumptuous spread for Thanksgiving, but we usually gathered with the Hales clan on Christmas Eve. The same held true when Jeff and I married. We'd celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas either at his Mom's or his sisters' houses, feasting and partying with hosts who truly knew what they were doing.
I was born without this critical gene to create a festive and sumptuous holiday celebration. So, until we moved away from the Bay Area, I never really flexed my hostess muscles. Oh, there were attempts, but nothing really successful. It took years of trial and error, mostly error. Also, like falling back on a crutch, we would travel hundreds of miles to join family celebrations. This, along with Jeff and I being members, for a few years, of a religion that didn't even celebrate Christmas, further confused and hindered my tradition-building progress.
During the home-bound celebrations, though, I did manage to prepare a Christmas Eve dinner featuring my mother's Danish rice pudding. The day she called me in to the kitchen from my teenage sulk and taught me how to make this favorite dish was definitely one of the highlights between us. We shared lots of angst and argument, but also lots of good times watching classic movies, talking family history, and making rice pudding.
rice puddingSo, in honor of my Mom, I mastered this dish and hope Val will one day want to learn how to make it too. It's become one of our family's Christmas traditions. But this year, I wanted to do more.
Enter Google, my hero on the white charger. Anytime I've had a problem, question, or curiosity, Google has come to the rescue. So, in the Search Line, "Danish holiday recipes."
Mercy! What a glut of good ideas. Scrolling down continuously, I found and copied recipes for red cabbage, pork roast, Copenhagen potatoes, Cardamom Christmas cookies, and, of course, smorgasbord, or open-faced sandwiches.
The recipes seemed fairly simple: only a few ingredients and easy processes. Over the years, though, my kitchen skills have eroded. We could blame Trader Joe's, but the real blame is on me. Anyway, I was sure I could pull this off.
Shopping for the ingredients was a blast. I can spend extravagant amounts of money at the grocery store without any guilt whatsoever. And I also found a few extras to add to the towering basketful of goodies. And very little of it was candy sweet stuff. This was going to be rich and healthy too.
The intellectual energy expended thinking about all this and girding up my loins to actually tackle this project took its toll. My disappointing attempt at making the cardamom cookies put a small dent in my confidence. Jeff, bless him forever, loved the cookies and threw himself on them with gusto.
condimentsI successfully made the rice pudding. Of course! But the pork roast, red cabbage, and Copenhagen potatoes would wait until later. For Christmas Eve's dinner, we would have smorgasbord. Val arrived and helped me a lot by arranging the cheese and meat platter. I sliced rye bread and put it in a pretty blue bowl. Then I built a salad plate with tomatoes, sliced prosciutto and cheese, and a bowl of wild arugula. I love these greens on meat sandwiches.
What a fun and easy spread it turned out to be. We all explored the flavors of different meats, cheeses, the veggies, and mustard, horseradish, and cranberry relish like children opening presents under the tree. Then Jeff leaned back in his chair and said "This is brilliant. Easy, fun, and really satisfying." I fell in love with him all over again.
After opening one present each, as is our tradition, we jumped in the car and drove around to see the Christmas lights. This area really goes all out for that. One family in the area, though, produced a professional-level light show.
Kramer Family light showThe Kramer Family in Minden worked with Vivid Illuminations to produce a synchronized musical light show on their cul-de-sac. The show was about 20-30 minutes long and the music was broadcast over the radio. Hilarious novelty songs like "Yellow Snow" merged with tearjerkers like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to create a fun gift for the entire town to see. And the message asked of viewers was "Pass It Forward." Perform random acts of kindness and courtesy throughout our lives to keep the spirit of Christmas going.
It was the perfect cap to the beginnings of our family holiday celebration.
Val stayed over and we spent a restful Christmas Day, devouring the rice pudding for breakfast and finishing off the smorgasbord throughout the day. We restrained ourselves from eating everything in sight as we did on Thanksgiving and made ourselves miserable.
I know our growing traditions for the holidays appear to be quite narcissistic, but we all do charity work during the year and really don't want to expound about that. But making a special celebration for my family and building little traditions that Val has come to expect is my gift to her and Jeff. Granted, it's not as fancy and lavish as past Christmases with relatives, but each family needs to build their own little traditions to solidify that family's history.
Each year, we hone our traditions, tweeking them to fit the circumstances. But these traditions are what children look forward to as an anchor of who they are as they step across the family threshold into the wide world. -- 12-27-2013


Christmas cactus

Merry Christmas Cactus

This is a Christmas cactus given to me years ago by a literacy student in Truckee. At the time, it was just a wee bit of a plant, but due to Jorge's botanical talents, it was also healthy, hearty, and able to withstand the assaults and changes that challenged its survival. It recovered from a frenzied attack upon its flowers by our wild little tuxedo cat, Snigglefritz. And moving to a new climate hardly fazed it. As you can see, though, it's no longer a wee bit of a plant. Over years of weekly waterings and filtered sunlight, it has flourished. It even defies wild animals by blooming profusely.
So, in this crazy world that tests our souls, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a new year that will bring love, strength, and prosperity for all.

Christmas 2013

Hay Fever and Other Pandemics

After receiving vaccinations for this year's predicted flu as well as a pneumonia shot, I've fallen victim to something more prevalent and insidious. Hay fever.
spread compostBoth Jeff and I participated in the local community flu vaccination POD (point of dispensary) a couple of months ago. Many of the CERTs did as a practice for controlling a major pandemic in the future. We were confident that neither of us would get sick this year. I don't know why we felt this way, since we did the same thing last year and I caught a different bug after shopping at a Carson City fabric store and was sick as a dog for weeks.
A couple of weeks ago, Jeff used his vacation to work on the compost bins while I raked the last leaves to fall. These he layered with Abby manure, chicken manure, and other yard waste to build a new compost heap. One of the two bins he created last year went to prepare a nourishing bed for our corn patch as you can see in the photo at right.
While making the new piles, he broke open the second bin and mixed and layered and otherwise stirred up some Frankensteinian microbe that entered his body and created a hacking, croupy cough. He's still got it.
Since I stayed in another part of the property, I wasn't exposed, I thought. Then, a week later, I was slammed with the same bug. Nasty. But it didn't behave like a flu virus that lays you out in bed with pains, fever, and a generally suicidal disposition.
No, this thing filled our heads with phlegm and wore us out trying to cough it out of our lungs. By the time Jeff returned to his work desk, his brain cells were not functioning at all. Not a good thing for an information tech. So, vacation was extended a day or two with sick leave.
corn patchMeanwhile, Thanksgiving and Jeff's birthday loomed before us. We begged out of a trip three hundred miles away to celebrate with family. Somehow, I managed to prepare even my usually simple holiday feast during spurts of energy throughout the day. It was just going to be Jeff, Val and me for dinner. So, we had a very restful, quality day with the daughter. Laughter reigned, but it came between jolts of coughing.
The compost piles are done for now. This year's corn produced lots of stems and leaves, but very little corn. One edible ear. But next year, there'll be plenty of sh ... uh ... compost to spread far and wide. We'll just be wearing protective gear. I suspected there was something evil about those huge, black mushrooms in the bins. Who knew we'd have to don hazmat suits to grow a little garden? -- 12-3-2013


As We Ponder a Loss...

This is a day we will all remember where we were when Kennedy was killed, what we were doing, and how we and those around us were affected. As part of our thoughts, let's ponder what this country, and the world, may have become had this event not happened.
Maybe today's "Celebrity Cypher" quotation will give us grist:
"We want to build a world of peace where the weak are secure and the strong are just." John F. Kennedy

-- 11-22-2013

Quality Time

Even after the daughter has set up housekeeping in her own place, fully supports herself with a good job, and is so busy she can only visit for an hour or two and pickup her mail, it's always fun and important to spend quality time together. It renews hope as well as connections.
Abby and ValThis weekend, Jeff, Val, and I feasted on beautiful artwork and a fantastic Dave Stamey concert as well as luscious food in Virginia City, NV. Sunday, we visited our aging appaloosa, Abby. I hadn't seen her in over a year.
Our first stop, in Gold Hill, was the Jones Mansion to attend an art show of Erik Holland's plein air oils of Nevada landscapes. As a watercolor aficionado, I usually find oils to be stilted. Erik's work, however, caught the muted mystique of Nevada. Check out his website to see what I mean. And, of course, photos don't begin to capture the glow of his work.
Well, lucky woman that I am, the holiday spirit pried its way into Jeff's heart and he bought me a lovely little painting of ranch buildings on an autumn afternoon. Both of us love the painting as it reminds us of so many drives through ranching country as the shadows lengthen and the sunlight mellows into deep gold.
The painting also reminds me of the giant cottonwood at Truckee River Stables that inspired me to write poems about Abby. A whole book came out of that tree.
Part of the pleasure of buying something from the artist is learning about its background. Erik said that little painting was one of his favorites because it's of the Winnemucca Ranch area north of Reno that came under siege between a well-connected developer and people who wanted to keep that valley unmarred by thousands of tacky houses.
Erik felt so strongly about it, he ran for mayor of Reno. He lost the election, but he made his point and won the battle in favor of leaving the land be as it is.
All of us were impressed with meeting a man so dedicated as much to his "homeland" as to his art.
Later, we enjoyed a concert by a man whose love for the land and its people is also the mission behind his career as songwriter and entertainer. Dave Stamey filled Piper's Opera House with fans who span a wide variety of folks. He commented that not only were there real buckaroos in the audience, but lots of people, all dressed in their finest Western duds, who are actually doctors, lawyers, and others who fantasize about the West and the iconic cowboy.
He said the cowboy is the only man who inspires someone making three or four hundred thousand dollars a year to be like a guy who makes $800 a month.
Such is the irony of people who live in the American West. Most people struggle and are usually broke, but the land and its mysterious hold on them compels them to stay and endure the hardships.
Dave's concerts pay homage to many types of people who have built their personal histories in the West. Ruby, the singer who entertained at the Tonapah Club; Opal and Henry who live in their little red trailer and have nothing and need nothing; a frustrated dude stringer wrangler; tragic lovers and successful couples; bandits and gunmen; and Juan Medina, the vaquero who lives in the air above the pepper trees.
"Todavia estoy aqui, I am still here."
This haunting tribute to the old ways tells it all. The buckaroo ways are still alive in the Great Basin. And while the young buckaroos attending Dave's concert exhibited a less heroic character, they are modern-day carriers of an ancient tradition that Dave honors throughout America with his songs.
Jeff bought a CD to add to his Stamey collection and this time, was able to talk to the man himself. Jeff said "Thank you for what you do," which vaulted Dave into a speech of how his songs and tours are indeed a mission to remind urbanites about real Western heritage and culture and its importance in our lives. Country people not only feed all of us, but steward the land and honest American values or hard work and simple rewards.
All three of us loved the concert, holding its rich heritage in our hearts if not in our daily lives. We are suburban kids transplanting ourselves in the sandy soil of the desert Southwest. And we wouldn't have entered that world if it hadn't been for a stubborn little appy mare.
Our immersion into Great Basin culture came when we bought Abby for Val when she was only eleven years old. Abby was five and still had a wild attitude despite her training. While she babysat Val through her early horse schooling years, Abby also gave Val challenges to master through unpredictable behavior.
Most mothers would never allow their children near such an animal. And there were moments, I must say, when I wondered if Val would survive. But as we watched Abby buck across the corral after a square of sunlight on the ground spooked her, we realized the Val had learned powerful and important lessons from this old greying mare.
Life is unpredictable, unfair, dangerous and sometimes downright evil, but to fear these problems and avoid them robs us of true wealth. Dave Stamey's songs often allude to this treachery in daily life. Horses are wicked and ranching is a desperate way to live, but the rewards go to those who conquer fear and grow strong.
By understanding that nothing is guaranteed and any damned thing can happen, we are ready to handle almost anything that comes along.
Meanwhile, as I step off my soapbox and back on topic, the weekend with Val ended with a huge bowl of frozen yogurt at YoGo. It was as though we really didn't want to end our time together. As Val re-entered her life away from Mumsy and Dad, I felt enriched and secure that a rancorous time has passed and wounds are healing.
A major blowout that rocked my foundations a year ago has disappeared into renewed acceptance and understanding. Val, Jeff and I share a thirty year history that can't be discarded anymore than I can discard the difficult relationships of my childhood. These events must disappear into the mists of time to make way for today's moments spent together.
And it helps to share events like the art show and the concert to remind ourselves of what we share. We still hold dear those values and dreams. And that reminds me of a chorus to one of Dave's songs:

Dreams are like horses

They run wild over the earth

Grab one and ride it

For all that it's worth.

-- 11-10-2013


Goose, Goose!

Canada geese grazing in wheat fieldCarson Valley plays host to a wide avian population: lots of hawks, eagles, including our February visitors the Bald Eagles, doves, ravens, quail. You've seen my recent post about doves and quail and all the LBBs that visit my feeding table.
A favorite resident avian of mine, though, is the Canada Goose. I believe these birds have taken up permanent residence in Carson Valley because of its lush food supply, amble sources of fresh water, and the fact that people here seem to like having them around.
Most people, that is. One poor soul complained about all the Canada geese hanging around Lampe Park in Gardnerville. Those who keep that park remarkably clean despite the hordes of geese and ducks told the complainer that "we like our geese and we're not going to chase them away." I guess that's why dogs are not allowed in Lampe Park.
There are many other places these birds can rest, though. Fields of alfalfa and wheat abound in Carson Valley. Bently grows several such fields around its industrial buildings and the local branch of Western Nevada College on Buckeye Road. That's where the above photo was taken today.
Each morning between whenever they get there and when I drive through on my way to pilates at nine a.m., hundreds of geese gather to glean the stubble and grains of wheat left after harvest. This is the first year I've seen this phenomenon, but I hope it happens every year from now on. I'm one of those strange people not put off by animal feces in the grass. Lord knows I've got mounds of it in my own yard from my two beasts, Buzz and Cinch. And it's not my favorite chore to clean it up.
Yes, I know it's annoying to walk along and pick up disgusting goo on your nice shiny Nikes. And geese do bring diseases with them. Don't we all? I'm more afraid of handling money or a library book than contracting H5N1 bird flu from a goose.
I like my geese. Yes, Mr. Redford, I call them "mine." Just like Dinesen would. And I'm proud and thrilled to live in a place that also cherishes them and offers them such a good place to stay, migratory or not.
And I wonder if these geese will indeed migrate. Since early August, I've watched them practice their V formations and mid-air communication skills. This late autumn gorge on grain and dried grass is fattening them up for the long migration to ... where. South America? New Zealand?
Or maybe they'll just stay right here where the winters are cold and windy, but the snow hardly covers the ground. Four inches is considered a blizzard.
Having animals stay over the winter helps me get through it more easily. Their stalwart survival during these months of frigid, short days inspires me to endure, despite the fact that those animals are all out there and I'm in here next to the fire.
At least winters in Carson Valley don't threaten to bury me and my house as Truckee's did. Winters are restful times for most people, unless you've got livestock to feed and calving cows to assist. I'll bet the ranchers around here don't give a damn one way or another about geese.
But it still excites me to see these huge birds gathered in such numbers in these fields, preparing themselves for the hard months ahead. It gives me hope. And that's important in these crazy times when so many people are enduring hardships for years and wondering if this "winter of our discontent" will ever end. -- 11-7-2013


Surprise, Surprise!

"Nothing surprises man (or woman) as much as old age."
Jeff has carried this quote inside his head for years, and today attributed it to Tacitus, a Roman historian who lived from 56-117 A.D. Another blogger cited Tolstoy, but such is the way with quotations. Sentiments supposedly spoken by Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, or that prolific Greek writer, Anonymous, have usually been borrowed from folks living eons before them.
Which only goes to show that old age and its comforts have been with us since Lucy turned back to gaze at a home she was leaving, probably for the equivalent of Stone Aged assisted-living.
Sue Cauhape photoLast night, Jeff and I saw Last Vegas, a fun movie about four aging friends throwing a bachelor partiy in Las Vegas. Besides the usual jokes about aging, Last Vegas tells about love and choices and secrets between childhood buddies. The movie spans nearly sixty years, showing how each man reconciles his particular little plot complication. There's nothing earth-shattering about these problems, which is refreshing in itself; but that only shows how simple glitches in human relationships can throw a rock in the road to love and understanding. It doesn't take much.
Age does bring its surprises. Michael Douglas' character expresses this. "Yesterday, I was seventeen years old. Now I'm nearly seventy. What happened to all that time?"
Likewise, age has crept up behind me, slowly tearing down my body and vitality. About twenty years ago, I looked in the mirror and saw my mother staring back at me. The surprise on her face was shocking, to say the least.
That "little box of hair color" helped me fool myself and others for a decade of so before I made the emotional leap to allow myself to go natural. My very good friend, Boots, who is in her eighties, has told me how beautiful my hair looks. Indeed, I've matured enough to look in the mirror and see that the old, grey-haired lady smiling back at me is ... ME! Surprise!
As for the body, after falling off horses and sliding down hiking trails and lifting heavy boxes, etc., there's only so much that can be done. Replacing a knee and doing pilates, however, have done much to recover that bouncy step of my youth. I realized that replacing body parts shows that a person has lived an active life. Perhaps we Boomers will see our bionic parts as badges of courage instead of signs of decrepitude.
As I reconcile relationships gone awry and push freeloading "thought tenants" from my brain, the old energy and hubris is returning as well. Surprise! One walks with more pep when the weight is lifted.
A few years ago, after a rancorous departure from my library job in Truckee, I settled into the idea that the good years were over and I should just relax and ride it out. My work life was finished, mainly because of my impetuous nature. Acquaintances were dropping away like fleas off a corpse. Oh my, depression was making itself quite comfortable.
Then we moved to Minden and a new landscape of possibilities. I am extremely cautious, though. Don't want to make the same stupid mistakes. Don't want to beg for friendship. No longer want to make an ass of myself in order to push out of my comfort zone.
All very important life lessons hopefully learned. I have also learned who my real friends are and how much I can or cannot depend on my family. I'm no longer riding it out. Instead, I'm discovering that I'm still writing chapters to my life story.
Old age may surprise us, but, as the four friends in Last Vegas discovered, we're not dead until someone zips up the body bag. We may be able to see the end from here, but it's still a ways off. A long ways off. -- 11-4-2013


Clutter and the Creative Process

cluttered studioI read somewhere that cluttered spaces often attract paranormal or poltergeist activity. Barring objects falling through the power of gravity rather than ghosts, I can understand how clutter distracts people from using their minds creatively.
Just ask any housewife who dreams of living a more creative life and she will tell you "I can't write, paint, draw, play music, etc. in this dirty house. Just when I get a great idea, I see something that needs to be done." After the chore is done, the creative idea, mood, and certainly the energy has disappeared.
Many of you more linear thinkers are probably shaking your heads and saying, "That's just an excuse. Just leave the chore for later."
Easier said than done. A lot of women are so hard-wired to create a clean and orderly environment, their spotless houses become their life's creation. Great literature, art and music become the works of those who do, indeed, do their chores later or simply don't give a damn. The created piece is far more important than dusting off that coffee table.
So, draw the curtains over those streaked window panes, throw a pretty cloth over the dust-catching surfaces, keep the animals, children, and significant others outside, and call it good. Peace! Now we can create.
But then there's that room of one's own that we have claimed after the children have (maybe) moved out. We lay dibs on it to insure their continued success as independent adults and to give ourselves that much-deserved space where we allow ourselves to spread our tools and materials of creativity out on the work table where we don't have to move them until the project is finished.
Ah, the best-laid schemes of mice and (wo)men.
First one project spreads across the table. Then another one. Then the first gets cast into a corner that soon becomes Mt. UFO, the Mountain of UnFinished Objects. Tools, materials, new interests, et cetera, grow and prosper into a field of misguided dreams. We feel our way through the mess as if walking through a soggy spring meadow of long grass, afraid to place our feet upon a delicate flower or tiny critter.
My daughter, Val, moved out permanently a little over a year ago. That's enough time for this environmental process to evolve in my studio. Frankly, it feels funny to call Val's former bedroom my studio because nothing artistic really happens there. I've toodled around writing Yahoo! articles and this blog, and tried desperately to pick and finish one of three novel starts. Once or twice, I've actually plugged in my sewing machine, threaded it, and pieced together some quilt squares. But then, there were all these boxes of stuff; I'd forgotten much of what's in them.
clean studioThe place became such a mess that I didn't even like to be in there. Now, that's when a creative space becomes a burden rather than a wellspring of creative energy.
So, it took three days, but I cleaned out my studio. I began at one point, my computer desk, and moved around the room, dusting and sifting through and throwing away and relocating tons of stuff. I discovered little treasures I'd forgotten about. I reminded myself of long-overdue projects that NEED to be done before I die. And I organized and placed in their own space the tools and materials for interests, such as watercolors, that I haven't totally abandoned.
The studio looks happy, doesn't it? That's exactly how I feel about it. Happy. And calm. The juices can flow freely again because there's no excuse or distraction. I can find what I need quickly. I know what's there and why. And the ghosts of projects past have been exorcized from the room of my own ... for now. -- 10-22-2013


Housework is NEVER Done!

There's a very good reason why some women give up the fight to beat back the dirt, grime, and fingerprints. Nearly two weeks after I squeegeed my windows to a glittering gleam, I decided to put bird seed out.ghosts of bird hits past Nighttime temps have plummeted to the thirties, even here in the banana belt of Carson Valley. But now, look at my window!
In this photo, you can see the ghost of bird-hits past. Look just behind the bird in flight and you can see an identical image of him. That's not a paranormal anomaly. That's where a dove did a face-plant on my bedroom slider.
So far, I've only found one dead bird on the patio, a quail. While fairly big, quail are delicate birds. They don't hold up well after slamming themselves against window panes. Doves, on the other hand, are fleshier and about twice the girth of quail. When they hit the glass, it shakes the house, arouses the cattle dogs to a frenzy, and challenges the tempered strength of the window pane.
Though I've seen countless quail cheat death by running in front of my car, doves have proved to be the bird-brains of the avian community. Truly stupid birds.
I've watched doves fly up to the slider window and hover there, going up and down, in and out, before turning to fly in the opposite direction. Perhaps I'm wrong about doves. They could be confused by seeing their reflections in the glass. That's the obvious observation. Maybe there's something else going on, though.
It very well could be that they're shadow-boxing some rival. Or they could be using the occasion to practice some Jonathan Seagull flight maneuvers. Trying to be hummingbirds. And while many doves have performed applied this mysterious rite before the altar of death, only a few have slammed into the glass. All have lived. I doubt if quail or any lesser bird could survive such an impact.
And as you can see by all the bird prints, my windows look like hell ... again. Of course, the dogs have reapplied their artwork lower down on the panes. All my work is for naught.
The only thing that urges me to pick up broom and dust cloth again is the knowledge that archeologists dig because the housekeeper hasn't been doing her job for a very very long time. -- 10-14-2013


Restored Rail Line Brings Historic Time Travel

Perhaps train buffs are not as plentiful in the Carson City, NV. area as classic car enthusiasts, but they've gathered enough people, money, and community largesse to pull off a heroic accomplishment. Historic time travel.
V&T Engine 29In Carson City, the Train Museum houses the results of volunteers buying and restoring old steam engines. Since the 1970s, however, they've also managed to piece together a rail line where these beautiful locomotives haul visitors from Carson City to Virginia City for a fun day trip through Nineteenth Century history.
Nearly thirty miles of track wind up the mountains past old and new mines and the tiny town of Gold City, to Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. As the narrator tells stories about the Masters of Industry and Money that built the Comstock, he also fills in details of the effort involved in restoring this rail line. Not only did the power of train enthusiasts pull political and financial rabbits about of many hats, they were able to blast through caved in tunnels and shore up crumbling road beds. And of course, they had to shoo-fly off the original railroad bed to bypass modern developments.
Val and Jeff on trainVal, Jeff and I have visited VC many times. Old posts on this blog tell of the July Fourth Parade as well as our weekend Ghost Tour, which left Val and I feeling kind of spacey for a few days afterward.
Any visit to Virginia City will take a visitor back into historical times so effectively that a case of time disorientation will follow. It's a yummy feeling, much like one feels after a week vacation in a foreign country. And VC is just up the hill; but now there's an easy and fun way to travel there.
Yesterday's historical time-travel began as we waited to board the train. Actors performed the almost-perfunctory gun fight to settle some dishonor between combatants. This particular show, however, almost ended in disaster as the woman in the triangle grabbed the gun from her "beloved." It happened to be cocked at the time and went off inches from the man's head.
After the skit, she bent to him and asked "I didn't really kill you just then, did I?"
The man rose slowly and the three actors did a post-mortem of the accident, if you'll pardon the expression. All was well. But I remembered when Jeff and Maverick shot wax blanks into a two-by-four once. The blank shattered the wood as it pierced through it. That actor undoubtedly knows just how lucky he was.
Back on track, though, we settled into the restored Pullman car, complete with original seats and antique baggage set upon the luggage rack. A knowledgeable narrator pointed out the sights along the way, including a few healthy-looking bands of mustangs who live in these hills.
For an hour and a half, we relaxed and enjoyed each other's company. Then, upon deboarding in VC, Val coached Jeff and I up the steep hill and stairway to VC's main street ... and beyond.
First business on the agenda was lunch. Hiking up to B Street, we found the Cider House closed until 3 p.m. We would be back on the train by then. Another hike finally brought us to the Casa del Rio, where we waited longer for a table than we did to board the train in Carson. And there wasn't even a shootout to entertain us.
Luckily, the food was well worth the wait. My beefsteak taco with house smoked cheese sprinkled through a tangy pico de gallo tasted marvelous and held me through the next few hours of hiking up and down the town.
This last Sunday of September brought chilly weather and the occasional 50-mile-an-hour wind gusts. A small smattering of bikers here for Street Vibrations mingled with an equal portion of tourists and costumed docents. We toasted our day together with a welcome hot rum toddy at the Bucket of Blood Saloon, then headed back to the train for the return ride.
This was one of those splendid days that only happen once in life. At times, it was physically arduous, but the companionship bounded us together. Everyone on the train was friendly and having a good time. It was mellow and relaxed. And in this world of frantic hype and massive, money-endowed crowds, this train ride proved that the efforts of a small band of volunteers and community support can bring us a connection with each other as well as our colorful Western history. -- 9-30-2013


Month of Reconciliation

In August, I really felt down. I was nervously looking forward to a family reunion which included seeing my long-estranged sister. My garden was producing nothing of significance. My quilting buddies were in a state of disarray. The dogs were felting the house deeply in fur. Jeff and I were getting testy and lethargic. And summer was quickly closing around us without so much as a stress-free weekend, much less a full-blown vacation.
As my sixty-fourth birthday approached this month, I wondered if life for me had settled into a day-to-day morass where no real learning or progress would be made. In fact, it seemed to be more than I could do to keep up with the dog hair removal.
So, get rid of the dogs, you say? No, that's not going to work, even for me.
cousins lined upAs I reported in the previous post, though, our trip to Utah for the Cousins' Reunion, turned out to be a total surprise and more fun than we've had in a long time. I rediscovered that I come from some really fine people who are intelligent, fun-loving, and sophisticated. My reunion with my sister sealed a positive relationship between us for the remainder of our lives. And Jeff and I were treated to a relaxing week of rest, stimulating conversation, and reconciliation.
As we toured my old haunts in Salt Lake, though, I realized my hometown is no longer my home. We've both grown apart and gone our separate ways. And that's okay. My particular pathway lead me to other fascinating places and people, all of which gave me the fodder for several books. I look back and see how I've accomplished all my dreams and discovered others along the way. It's been a fabulous ride. And it's not over.
new beddingAfter staying a week in Cousin Toni's immaculate house, I realized just how fuzzy my was and how tired I was of it all. During the remainder of Jeff's vacation, we bathed and brushed the dogs. After their stay in a kennel, they really wondered what other horrors awaited them.
On my birthday, Jeff, Val and I found fresh new bedding ... at least a new duvet and pillow shams, and even a couple of throw pillows to clean up the master bed. Cinch and Buzz are forever banned from our bed and received new beds of their own next to us. Cinch is still getting over that specific loss of affection. She'll get over it, though.
Now I know most men won't understand the supreme glee I feel at buying new linens. Jeff Foxworthy has joked about this sort of thing often. However, to climb into a bed without wads of dog hair is a revelation to me concerning my relationship with animals. We didn't allow Val to sleep with us, why should we allow Cinch to do so?
In a way, it's a reconciliation with housekeeping maturity. Jeff bought me a beautiful home here. I need to up my game and keep it clean. My life of working outside the home is over. My new job is my house and yard. The dogs will just have to reconcile themselves to the new rules.
our harvestAs for the garden, you can see by the size of this zucchini that our garden success this year has been minimal. Oh, we did get one humungous zuke earlier, but the triffid that produced that one zuke, failed to go much further. It decided to sit back on its laurels and do little more. So the hens received the bounty of this meager harvest when I ripped out the malingering plant and threw it in the chicken run.
I've poured water on our richly composted gardens all summer. Most of the seeds didn't germinate at all. One beleaguered giant sunflower droops its head, probably to hide its shame at not producing any seeds. Two volunteer tomato plants at its base have given us more grape tomatoes than the huge plants in the cold frame. That cold frame has produced more leaves than fruit on anything planted therein. Thank goodness the chard is all leaves. That's one crop that has fed us well.
As for the three sisters corn patch: we've enjoyed one ear of corn between us, but all the other ears are tiny and devoid of kernels. I've found a couple handfuls of beans from the vines climbing the corn stalks, but that's all. And the two squash plants that survived have produced nothing but flowers and leaves. I have seen bees around, but they haven't found the tomatoes or squash blossoms.
So, good thing Trader Joe's still provides because our garden didn't. And this helps me appreciate all the more the effort that professional farmers and ranchers make to grow our food for us. And our experience shows the gamble these people take every year. So, while my finicky vegetarian friends rage over the Monsanto world in which we live, I have reconciled to use whatever help modern chemistry can give me.
At least the hens have given us lots of eggs. People look forward to receiving as gifts or buying these little marvels. They are well worth the food we give them and the daily effort to watch over and provide a clean place for them.
hen picturesMy sister-in-law, Karen, was a happy recipient of a dozen last Saturday when we visited her and Joe at their Tahoe house. For my birthday, she gave me three cut-outs from a Nut Tree poster of hens that she framed. They look great in our home and celebrate the success we have we our hens.
They're also significant as a reminder of the fun Karen and I had during our visit. Usually, any long conversations between Karen and me have been thwarted by the presence of other talkative family members and heated discussions that I tend to stay out of. This visit, it was just me and Jeff and Karen and Joe.
The menfolk retired to the living room, leaving Karen and me at the table, reminiscing about the Nut Tree and how much fun it was to visit on our travels between the Bay Area and Tahoe. I told her some family history and she told me about a book she's writing about her work counseling families in crisis, especially concerning inheritance and end-of-life issues. I finally saw an opportunity to pay back her years of hospitality by offering to read and critique it.
Then, she pulled out some Sharpie's and paper and got us started on a "share-a-doodle." For about an hour, as we talked about other "stuff," we drew little doodles, going back and forth as if playing a game, initiating and enhancing each other's doodles until the whole page was covered. The wonder of this simple game was that it gave us a chance to interact as peers. I've always held Karen in awe. In fact, I've been quite intimidated by her intelligence and drive. She is definitely an over-achiever where as I feel lucky to get through the day with half my list of "To-Do's" accomplished.
We've usually had little in common to talk about, but this doodle exercise drew us into a relaxed, accepting exploration of each other as people. It was a delightful birthday surprise. Now I can say that I've reconciled with all my family, both sides of it. The comfort and healing this brings me is incredible.
After an unfortunately uncivil parting from the quilt store, my good friend, Norma, is reorganizing her life. It's been kind of weird for me at the store as well, especially after Norma left. There was this huge hole in the air, and one of the women who filled it is someone with whom I have some issues. Just when I thought I had a bunch of friends, this silliness happens. And it IS silliness. Women and their dramas.
Anyway, Norma emailed a bunch of us who have been feeling kind of unanchored by all this hoo-haw and invited us to lunch and a sew-in at her home. We spent a fun, chatty day re-establishing the old, friendly, casual atmosphere we loved so much at the shop.
What I learned from this gathering, though, was that I wasn't the only one who was hurting from all this unease between people. And the same ladies who made me uncomfortable also made others uncomfortable. I thought I was losing friends because of my weird personality or whatever. But it wasn't about me. Not totally, anyway.
So, the reconciliation here is that I need to learn to connect with people and find out what's going on. Not just pull back into my little world and fester. There's too much good stuff to lose when I do that.
In fact, as I look back on all the personal relationships I've discussed in this long tirade, it appears that the reconciliations I've had this month have been because of some very loving and generous people: my cousin Toni, sister-in-law Karen, and Norma. They've taken the problem in hand and pulled me out on my tomb to join the living world. It takes courage to interact with family and friends. It takes effort and constant care and nourishment.
Gee, this all sounds like the care and feeding of a productive garden. Getting to know people and having the courage and generosity to give them what they need is a lot like growing vegetables. I've got to prepare the soil, plant viable seeds, give them proper amounts of food and water, pull out the weeds and deter the bugs and critters, and tend to them often before any produce will appear.
So, my sixty-fourth year will be spent learning how to cultivate people as well as plants. Take chances. Learn more. Don't give up because of past failures. And not forget the power of love. It's like fresh, clean water on a hot day. -- 9-23-2013


Holding Onto the Buzz

As we drove westward toward home after a long weekend visiting relatives, Jeff said "I'm just trying to hold onto the buzz of being with Toni and Rick."
HarleyWe stayed in their beautiful home in Alpine, Utah, for four days, far beyond when most houseguests begin to reek. Throughout the weekend, I felt as though I was staying in a high-end bed and breakfast. So nice to be pampered and free of responsibilities. Toni and Rick are masters at making people comfortable and welcome. And their British-creme retriever, Harley, kept me from going into doggy withdrawal. What a sweet, well-mannered dog he is.
Because this visit included two gatherings, Toni cooked up a storm ... almost literally. (I'll explain later.) Tons of fresh fruit, sumptuous pulled pork tacos, sloppy joe's, and, of course, desserts.
When Toni escorted us to our rooms, a small apartment downstairs, there was a jar of homemade cookies on the counter. At the Cousin's Reunion, cousin-in-law Judy spread out two flavors of ice cream and an array of toppings that would make Baskin-Robbins whimper. When Toni and Rick's children and grandchildren came Sunday afternoon, someone provided a chocolate-topped shortbread cake that melted on the tongue. MERCY!
Toni cooking sloppy joe'sAt one point, Toni apologized profusely and said she and Rick don't normally eat like this. Not able to speak with our mouths full, we shook our heads and later told her we were enjoying every delicious tidbit. True, we don't normally eat like this either, but that was one reason why we were having such a good time.
Other good time reasons came in the form of meeting so many interesting and with it people. All had done or were doing intriguing work in Utah's burgeoning high-tech economy. Jeff and Rick spent hours telling war stories of working in Silicon Valley. Then they planned several start-ups and solved most of the world's problems. Jeff was enthralled and I was simply at ease with the joy of knowing I am related to such cool people.
Then came the one meeting that I anticipated with excitement and a bit of dread: my sister. As I explained in the previous post, we've had a bumpy relationship all our lives and haven't spoken in over a decade. When I came upstairs for the Cousins' Reunion, there she stood waiting to see me. We embraced and then found a place to sit and chat. Her mobility issues required support, so, arm-in-arm, we navigated through people, tables and chairs until, after several tiring hours, she left with cousins Anne and Cloyd.
Toni and I shook our heads, wondering, as Anne did when she called later, why in the world Becky was diagnosed with dementia. She was cogent, well-mannered, and remembered more than some of the more "functioning" folks at the gathering.
The mind, and our understanding of it, is a puzzle indeed. She's probably the least educated of the entire crew, yet remembers most details of the past. My cousin Kelly, however, compartmentalizes his brain to keep track of all the high-tech data housed there. In doing so, he's basically core-dumped his entire childhood. Can't remember a thing before age 21. But he can tell you the history of Oracle, for whom he worked, and can program computers, etc. etc. etc. The man's a technical genius, but he can't remember all the times he, Toni, and Aunt Bonnie babysat me. Hmmmm....
Rick telling talesAnyway, the gods smiled upon us and our gathering. Just as we ended our picnic on the patio, raindrops began to fall. The party moved indoors where photographs and genealogy materials were displayed for our perusal and approval. Cameras flashed and storytellers regaled with amazing tales.
The next afternoon, as Jeff and I returned from exploring my old haunts in Salt Lake, a cloudburst opened upon Alpine, flooding a recently burned mountainside. Mudslides closed roads and required evacuation of a hundred homes. In this 99.99999... percent Mormon community, crews assembled to fill sandbags with the efficiency of a military operation. The storm made the news the next day and we considered ourselves blessed to be sheltered on a high spot with Toni and Rick. We sat in their beautiful living room, watching the lightning flash and the rain run down the window panes.
We took two days to drive back home. And we're still humming with the buzz of our time in Alpine. It was the most positive, energizing visit home I've ever experienced. I may never be able to "go home again" to live, but I will enjoy visits for many years to come. The dread is gone, and that in itself is a huge buzz.
Thank you, Toni and Rick and Harley, for a fabulous time. -- 9-10-2013


Clouds Clear in Family

smoke blotting sunThe smoke from the Rim Fire still clogs our breathing space here in Carson Valley, but the clouds seem to be parting over a long, rancorous silence between me and my sister, Becky.
As long as I can remember, Becky and I have scratched at each other's eyes over anything at all; from a raggedy stuffed panda bear to email etiquette. She was six years old when I invaded her spot in the family limelight and she's resented it ever since. I've just tried to stay out of her way.
Over the years, I actually grew to fear this woman. Oh, she wasn't the sort to do physical harm, but her cobra-like manner of gaining trust before striking became so habitual, I kept my distance and actually trembled at the prospect of being in her presence. Silly? Yes, indeed.
At least a decade has past since I've had any contact with Becky and her sons. Apparently, I was written off the Christmas card list. A minor thing, perhaps, but being written off any list is still painful, even if it's a list you don't consciously want to be on.
Then, our cousin, Toni, emailed me with news that Becky had been put in a nursing home for the rest of her life. After several conversations with her sons and visits to Becky herself, Toni has not learned any specific facts other than Becky suffers from dementia.
My mind - and heart - reeled with this information. How did I really feel about this? Yeah, there was a glimmer of triumph over evil, but the hard reality of my only sibling entering what was essentially Shady Pines terrified me. At one extreme, I felt Karma had worked Its magic. On the other, a woman with a very prickly personality and a lot of issues had been incarcerated by the medical establishment.
I wondered how the docs had come to the conclusion she was demented and had, as her son explained, a personality disorder? When does one's normal personality cross the line into medically-recognised disease. That's what frightened me. Both my mother and Becky told me I was crazy. Mom even advised me, from her death bed, to seek professional counseling. Ironically, after a year of such counseling, my counselor affirmed that I was NOT crazy.
Okay. So now what do I do?
Toni gave me Becky's mailing address. I finally worked up the courage to write a letter. What could she do, afterall? If her return letter was bitchy, I could burn it and call it DONE.
Her letter wasn't bitchy, though. She was glad to hear from me. The letter was filled with complaints about her kids abandoning her and how "this place sucks." Not only typical, but understandable. Her writing, to my surprise, was lucid in its structure and spelling and her handwriting continued to be well-formed. This was not the letter of a dementia patient.
Subsequent letters varied in their quality. She repeated herself often and ranted as if on a mental loop. Okay, I see the signs here. Then, at the end of one letter, she gave me her phone number and told me she loves to get phone calls.
Okay, was I being harsh or merely cautious. Was she setting a new trap for me? I couldn't tell. I waited a few more weeks, continuing to write and even sending her a birthday card. Boy, was that hard to choose. I wondered if her sense of humor would cognate any of the funny ones I read. I didn't want to send a sappy sisters are special card. Granted, that's a very true sentiment, but not in a good way.
Then Toni organized a cousins' reunion. Becky would be there and we could meet face-to-face in the company of others. She wrote that she was excited to see me and Val again. Well, I had to tell her that Val wasn't coming to the reunion. A phone call was in order to prepare her.
Because her latest letter was so upbeat - no complaints, and news of new friends - I figured it was safe to crawl out from under the rock.
We talked for about a half-hour. Though tired, she spoke clearly and with the usual skill. Her thoughts were cogent. She was the same old sister, except the rancor was missing. She could vent against her roommate now and not at me. We laughed and stroked each other's egos. Most of all, the hatchet lay buried, hopefully very deep with a boulder on top.
So we'll see how it goes. Long distance communications can be extremely disceptive. Though my dad sounded okay over the phone, it wasn't until I visited him that I saw the extent of his dementia. This could be the same. We'll see.
At least, there is a clear passage. We're both little old ladies now with even fewer reasons to hate each other. I tell myself "she can't hurt me anymore." I need to believe that. Remember that old "sticks and stones" rhyme. It's time to have a good time with my cousins, whom I haven't seen in decades, and with my sister, who may just send me a Christmas card this year. -- 9-4-2013


Backyard Farmers See Results

cornDespite a cloud of smoke so thick it obscured the sun, members of the Backyard Farmers group came over last night to check out our successes and "not-so-much-es," and other changes to our veggie gardening efforts. There was actually quite a bit to talk about.
This photo shows the corn as it looked a few weeks ago when it finally woke up and decided to grow. It and the rest of the patch has since reached shoulder height and a few corn cobs are peaking out from the stalks. A couple of stalks have toppled over and Susie Brown suggested we plant closer together so they can support each other.
Next year, we plan to enlarge the patch and plant only one kind of corn. The squash succumbed to squirrels before Jeff could put hardware cloth around the perimeter. That did the trick. Now one lonely squash is going gangbusters and the beans and corn are growing higher.
A handful of potato starts that Gillian gave us are doing well as is one squash plant in the potato patch. The lone surviving sunflower is drooping, its leaves tattered and torn by birds and bugs. It's doing its best but not doing well under the circumstances. Two volunteer tomato plants at its feet are already producing tiny cherry and pear-shaped tomatoes. Where did they come from????
Meanwhile, the miniature corn and cabbage I planted never appeared. Next year, that windy, hot garden area will go totally for potatoes. They seem to love it there. Not much else does, though.
Our fruit trees are suffering from lack of water as the irrigation system has been giving Jeff fits. He's been trying to get it all working since spring. One is never done maintaining a sprinkler/irrigation system, and apparently ours is quite complex and old. He's replaced a good portion of it, including the electrical wiring that controls the timing.
As for the cold frame: the tomatoes are finally coming in, one or two at a time. Makes it easier to use for meals instead of the mad rush to can a huge harvest all at once. I thought the zucchini was merely producing beautiful large leaves and flowers until Jo dived into it and discovered a foot-long squash buried among the vines. It's huge and will make a complete dinner tonight baked with olive oil, parnesian, and perhaps a sprinkle of chives from my prolific plant. I used some chives in the scrambled eggs last night and its aroma was quite pungent. The only things in that dish that didn't come from our "farm" were the salt and pepper. Our girls laid the eggs. And the chives and a couple of tomatoes spiced the flavor.
Other surprises in the cold frame were healthy lambs quarters and amaranth plants that blew in on the breeze. Both joined a couple of mallow volunteers from last year and will make good "pot herbs" for stews later this fall when it gets cold enough for such dishes.
Pat and Gillian also helped me figure out what that pretty little ground cover "weed" is that I've allowed to grow next to the front door. Its pretty little yellow flowers and lacy foliage are still attractive to me. Then Pat found a reference in one of my flower books. GOATHEADS! Yak! Now I've got to irradicate it before its nasty, thorny seeds come on. Those things can flatten bicycle tires and cripple dogs faster than anything. And they are difficult to remove because they inflict so much pain just at the touch. NASTY!
So, there's the late summer garden report of Rancho Pequeño's production for 2013. We've learned a lot from our efforts. And having good people come by and helping us with their years of experience in this "field" makes it more worthwhile. Producing one's own food is a huge learning curve. We didn't even know what our veggies would look like in the garden - so very different from what we see in the produce aisle. But the flavors and textures are so much better.
What's more: our little group has dwindled down to the hard-core and most interesting people in the organization. Last night, we wondered, briefly, if we had enough to carry on monthly meetings. We all agreed, though, that there was still lots to share. My feeling is we have a small cadre of new friends that is becoming more than just a "garden club." Last night, as we gathered around the table, we talked about so many other things than our gardens. We're moving beyond a specifically focused organization to a group of friends who just like to get together and share.
While the original purpose of the group has evolved, we're all becoming friends. Now that's a harvest that is particularly tasty and fulfilling. -- 8-23-2013


Dog Takes Flying Leap....

sad Border CollieThe dog at the right, Cinch our Border Collie, is still just as pathetic as she looks here. And this photo is over two years old. Cinch has an abundance of impetuous enthusiasm that overpowers her reputed intelligence.
Here's the latest saga:
Yesterday, we took Buzz and Cinch with us to the Truckee house where we needed to do some repair and clean-up to make it ready to rent. The painters were still working on the place, and I could see my plans for the day diminishing.
Buzz knows the territory -- it was his old stomping grounds before we moved to Minden. Cinch, however, didn't know that our earth-bermed house isn't like any old hill she has encountered in the past. Despite its easy access from the back, the front has a steep drop-off.
I couldn't see where she had gone. I called and clapped my hands, thinking she had just gone down the street with Buzz to Kristy's house. Then I heard a loud thump and a yelp.
Turning around, I see Cinch struggling on the asphalt about ten-twelve feet out from the garage doors. Instantly, I knew she had responded to my call and ran toward me, her momentum flinging her over the edge of the house.
She tried to walk toward me and I ran to hold her down while I checked for her injuries. Having fallen off Abby, my horse, I knew what she was feeling at that moment.
Her insides were tingling and constricting. Her breath caught as her organs felt as though they were turning to jelly. She was stunned with the shock and pain of landing hard on the pavement.
Then I saw blood coming from her mouth. Her eyes stared and rolled in their normally buggy-eyed sockets. Her entire body shivered and trembled uncontrollably. She was going into shock. I screamed for Jeff to help me.
He finally came ten seconds later and saw the trauma scene. We grabbed a few pieces of cardboard the painters had left near the garage and lifted her into the Jeep. I rode with her, my legs holding her down so she couldn't move or be tossed around as we drove around Truckee looking for a vet.
None of the offices were open. During our search, Cinch started to perk up a bit. I watched every move she made, checking to see if blood came from her anus and mouth. I soon realized the drops of blood came from a scrape on her lip and had stopped.
She rolled on her back and let me press and palpate her. No pained response. I felt her legs and found her left front leg joint was the only painful place on her.
We returned to the house, gathered our tools, and drove home. We stopped at Dairy Queen for a nosh. The waitress offered us pooch cups. Both dogs eagerly licked them of their creamy contents. Good, Cinch feels like eating. That's a good sign.
Later, Val came by for our Sunday True Blood Fest and helped me wrap Cinch's leg in vet wrap. By now, she could move, but obviously didn't want to. She nuzzled against our legs for comfort. Jeff carefully scooped her into his lap, her favorite place in the world.
This crazy little dog for some reason survived a fall that would've seriously injured or killed another animal. Just a sprained leg joint. Her enthusiasm has been severely dampened, but that's a good thing. I never could trust her supposed intellect. She's rarely shown us such talent. Perhaps this adventure will train her to be more careful as she careens through the remainder of her life.
Meanwhile, I'm considering renaming her Lucky. -- 8-5-2013


Bursage: Pretty at First, Then....

bursageThe UNR Cooperative Extention in Gardnerville proves time and again to be the gardener's best friend. They're rarely failed to identify whatever plant, bug, bird, or nest I've taken in to them. At tonight's Ag Forum, the last in this year's series on small farming and gardening methods, the speaker was able to identify a mystery plant that stymied even the Backyard Farmers group.
As soon as Wendy Hansen Mazet uttered her last word, I bolted toward her with a baggy containing a sprig from this lovely, lobed-leafed plant I've allowed to grow. Gillian Ferranto got to Wendy just as I did with a sample of the same plant.
You may recall my Rave a few weeks ago about Gillian showing Jeff and I around her yard identifying the edible "weeds" she allowed to grow. Mallow, dandelion, mustards of all kinds. We finished the day with a sumptuous quiche made with our eggs and her wild edibles. Anyway, she showed me her least-favorite plant, the Russian thistle, and warned me to eradicate it ASAP. I did.
But there was this other plant with greyish-green lobed leaves that looked so pretty, that I let it grow, hoping it wouldn't become some dreaded Triffid that would devour us in our sleep.
When Wendy saw our two plant samples, her nose wrinkled as the word "bursage" spewed from her lips. "I hate this plant. I work with it all the time and it stinks." Gillian and I looked at one another, wordlessly agreeing that we find the aroma quite agreeable. Its pungent lemony smell is fairly strong but pleasant, at least to our virgin noses. But when you smell something every day, it begins to wear out its welcome.
Wendy went on to tell us that after bursage blossoms, those tiny yellow flowerettes turn into obnoxious stickery seeds that get into dog paws and fur. While not as painful as goatheads, bursage will make a poor puppy pretty miserable.
So, now I know what I'll be doing this weekend. The blossoms have already come out on the bursage in my yard and it's only a short time before Cinch and Buzz will be yowling at me to remove stickers from paws and tangled fur.
While there was a lot more great information gleaned from the meeting, such as why my tomatoes haven't been setting fruit, (90+ temps!) the facts about bursage inspire me to clean up the yard with more enthusiasm. And now that Jeff has gotten the irrigation system working again, he can help me. We've got an acre of bursage. It's going to be a long hot weekend. -- 7-31-2013


Quilter Trades Sewing Machine for Motorcycle

Norma on her new SpyderAssociations with women can prove ... difficult ... to say the very least. After one major upheaval at the fabric store, my quilter friend and mentor, Norma Coffey, traded her Brother sewing machine for a brand new Spyder tri-wheel motorcycle. (Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?)
Norma's husband, Gale, has explored the Sierra Nevada and the West with motorcycle clubs for years. Recently, Norma started nosing around for her own bike, a three-wheeler like Gale's, so she can join him.
Frankly, I can see Norma blazing her own biker trails, long white hair flowing behind her in the wind, a wide grin collecting more specimens than an ornithology lab.
I can see her becoming a legend among local bikers, just as she had become a legend at the fabric store where she hung out for years, mentoring would-be quilters like me and doing all kinds of jobs around the store.
Norma on SpyderIn fact, she became the heart and soul of that store and all of us will miss her terribly. Without her, I not only wouldn't have a clue about quilting, but I'm walking around with a brand new knee because of her encouragement.
Every time I go to the store now, I will look sadly at that huge hole in the air where Norma used to sit, making store samples and holding court. Then again, how can I be sad when I know that Norma has traded a seat behind a sewing machine for a seat on a flashy motorcycle.
I love it. The very thought of her new life gives me an intense case of the giggles. You go, girl! Go far, live long, and be happy. -- 7-17-2013


Nature's Got This One!

one of many wildfires east of Minden-GardnervcilleIt takes a ranch woman to set me straight on Nature's ways.
For the past five days, I've looked eastward at the Bison wildfire and seen it defy hundreds of firefighters, planes, helicopters, and other modern equipment as it chars beautiful pinion forests in the Pinenut Mountains. Each morning, only a small plume reminds us of the eternal struggle being waged between Man and Nature there. By afternoon, when the winds kick up, the fire flares up to four or five times the size, completely undoing the difficult and dangerous work firefighters have done.
From a distance, we can see the oily pinions explode in the searing heat. Black smoke takes its life force upward to join the billowing grey, white, and sickly pink smoke that hangs over us. As I look at those clouds of destruction, it's hard for me to remember that all the nutrients within them are being spread, like fertilizer, across the land.
When I went to pilates today, I saw my friend, Toni, who drives in from her hay ranch in Smith Valley. The fire has finally breached the mountain barrier and now burns closer to Smith Valley homes and ranches. "How ARE you," I ask her, my voice obviously revealing my concern.
Toni is not a fatalistic person. Rather, she is like ranchers in general, if I may say so, who live and breathe Nature's rules and wrath on a daily basis. They are the ones who know from long experience close to the earth that Nature deals with imbalances in the environment and cleans up after us and our mistaken efforts to protect her. Ranchers live by Nature's edicts; if they don't, they fail.
Pinenut trailsToni rhapsodized about how Nature is doing Its job, clearing out the forest in the way It has for millions of years. "It's so overgrown back there, it will be much better after the fire. Now the animals and plants can move in and heal."
I know she's right, but I can't help remembering our many Jeep rides back into those hills. The most recent took us into hidden valleys of ancient cedars and pinions where, I'm fairly certain, Washoes have been gathering pinenuts from their traditionally held groves for generations. The trees are large, full, and look healthy, at least to me. It is a scene of wealth and beauty.
All of this is now going up in smoke. And it just kills me to think of the loss.
"I sure hope so,"I say. Toni looks at me like the naive child I am and says, in effect, this is Nature's way of cleansing the land.
So, a level-headed person has helped me to ignore media screaming about wide-spread climatic chaos and just remember how Nature works. As I look toward that ugly cloud to the east, I hear Toni's message: Nature's got this one! -- 7-9-2013


A Rainy Pony Re-Ride

Pony rider Phil with PCOur second year monitoring the Pony Express Re-Ride on Overland Pass was windy as usual, but also rainy and cold. Luckily, rider Phil Raglen and his Missouri Foxtrotter PC, (Patriot Commander) found shelter in our camp.
A prudent man, Phil arrived two hours early to Overland Pass, where he would receive the mochilla carrying mail from St. Joseph, MO. The riders carrying the mail to the pass from the east were at least an hour late. So, Phil sat under our canopy, holding PC nearby out of the wind. Poor little horse still got drenched, but the wind would have killed him if not for the shelter. Phil wouldn't have fared much better.
PC under blanketBoth of them proved to be amiable guests. Stories about The Pony, as this event is called by those who participate, filled the time as well as occasional squawks from Jeff's HAM radio updating us on the progress of the riders.
This national horse event is massive, winding across the country from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA, the original route of the Pony Express. That original means of moving the mail only lasted eighteen months before telegraph made it obsolete. The Re-Ride itself is almost as ephemeral because nobody but the participants really knows it's happening.
This is not a spectator sport where you can sit back with beer in hand and watch the riders. If you did, it would be a case of "here-they-come-there-they-go." Instead, if you're as lucky as we were on our trip home, you may glimpse a rider, dressed in flashy red shirt and yellow scarf, trotting or loping along the trail.
Even then, you'd be lucky. Most of the trail through Nevada winds through remote valleys and mountains far from the closest thoroughfare, Highway 50 - The Loneliest Highway in the World.
Overland Pass campThe riders drive their mounts to a mile-marker along the trail where they are supposed to meet the rider carrying the mochilla. Once the exchange is done, the rider takes off toward the next station, and the other rider and those helping the riders leave the area for other destinations.
Twenty minutes later, you'd never know anything happened there except for the hoof prints in the sand.
Indeed, it's the same with the HAM camps that sprout up long enough to monitor the assigned stretch of the trail. We arrived atop Overland Pass West Monday morning and left twenty-four hours later. Not a scrap of our existence there could be found. Some HAMs are even more ethereal than that. They'll arrive on site, monitor the race, then go home or to the nearest hotel for a soft bed and hot meal.
Norm and ChrisWe've discovered, though, that those who camp on Overland Pass can provide a brief but important service to the riders and horses. They don't want much, but a cup of coffee, water and an apple for the horse goes a long way to ease their effort. Phil enjoyed a piece of banana cake along with his coffee. Then again, he had a couple of hours to let it settle before loping down Telegraph Canyon. Norm and Chris only accepted a quick cup of coffee before they headed back to their camp.
They did manage to introduce themselves and tell us that they were from Ely and Norm had been riding The Pony for thirty-two years. A taciturn man, he looked every year and mile of it. Some of these riders, especially the ones from eastern Nevada, are tough people.
We enjoy the contact with these strong and brave people who reenact the dangerous duty of riders in the original Pony Express. Most of them were orphans, preferred for their lack of family ties because of the dangers involved in carrying the mail across the wide expanse of America.
Phil chuckled about the cushy conditions of Camp Cauhape, but the riders of old didn't have it so good. Each leg of their journey was about twenty miles between stations where they would quickly dismount, transfer the mail bags to a fresh horse, then ride on. Hostile Indians, storms, a fall at a treacherous part of the trail, deep snow and ice, were all normal dangers they would meet on the trail.
Sometimes the mail never made it and a lonely Pony Express rider would die on the prairie, his courage unknown to anyone receiving mail. Those young men who rode the Pony Express in the 1800s are the ones that today's Pony riders honor. There are accidents along the way. Riders get lost or delayed. Bad weather makes it harder than expected. But it's all about honoring the old riders who helped connect the West with the East.
So, if you're traveling along Highway 50 during the last weekend or so in June, and you see a rider or a pair of riders in red shirts loping along a trail near the road, you'll know who they are and what they're doing. It will almost be like seeing ghosts, and indeed, that's kind of what it is. A ghostly reminder of the courage, skill, and magnificent daring it took to build America as we know it today. -- 6-28-2013


Monsanto Monsters and X-Hoses

mushroomsI've never been into 'srooms' so my knowledge of such things is restricted to the produce aisle. These trifids, however, gross me out. They don't even look appetizing. And they're huge. The heads are nearly three inches across. Well, maybe two-and-a-half.
As soon as I photographed them, I plucked them out of my radish garden and even picked a couple of the radishes upon which these mushrooms bled some color. While I did touch them a bit, I used a paper towel to scoop them out of the soil and place them into a plastic bag to throw away. Then I washed my hands with detergent, hoping I hadn't already poisoned myself by handling them. Horrors!
Now I'm wondering how they got in the container in the first place. The only other time my gardening efforts have sprouted unwanted mushrooms was when we used egg carton cups to sprout seeds in winter. Kind of makes me wonder about the constitution of egg cartons. I think about such things as I wash the coop dirt from my hens' eggs. I guess one needs to choose one's dirt as well as one's battles.
I confess, though, that I used Miracle Gro in this container. Maybe these are Monsanto monsters. Then again, I've never had problems with Miracle Gro before; certainly nothing like this! The spores for these ETs probably blew in on one of our normal afternoon zephyrs and yesterday's rain and the 100-degree temps nourished them into sudden explosion.
Whatever! They're gone. In the trash. Wrapped in plastic bags...another environmental anathema.
X-HoseThat was the downside of today's gardening adventures. The Rave of the Day, however, is my fantastic X-Hoses which arrived yesterday. After being on back order for over a month, we wondered if they would get here before autumn. In fact, I was beginning to think the makers of X-Hose had played a scam on everyone and were enjoying millions of gardeners' dollars somewhere in the Carribean.
Gratefully, my suspicions were unfounded. The X-Hose manufacturers were simply so overwhelmed by desperate and frustrated gardeners, such as myself, that they couldn't keep up with demand. Talk about a better mousetrap!
So today, we connected our new hoses and I gleefully watered gardens with them. We bought two seventy-five foot hoses and two one hundred foot hoses so they'll reach everywhere. They are so light and easy to drag around, I was absolutely giddy after watering our three vegie gardens and orchard.
Unlike our old hoses, with their untapeable leaks, irritating kinks, and unwieldy poundage, these feather-lites are a treat to use. We ordered on-off nozzles which the hoses require to expand as they do on TV ads. Turn on the water and the hose fills and writhes into full length like a snake. Then you just pull the lever back and water the gardens.
Caveats: when you turn off the water, the hose won't shrink back down until the water drains from the hose. So, you need to release the water by shutting off the spigot and keep the nozzle on until the water is drained. The hose does indeed shrivel into a much smaller and more easily-handled hose that can fit into a container if you want.
Another warning is that running hot water through the hose damages the inside of it. Thus, we're not going to leave the hose in the sun and full of water. This came in handy with the old hose when I liked hot water to clean the chickens' water containers. Alas, there's always a trade-off, but these hoses solve so many really irksome problems I battled daily with the old hoses, I don't even care about hot water for cleaning.
So, Mommy is very very happy. And when Mommy's happy, everybody's happy. Thank you, Bears!-- 6-11-2013


Nice to be Prepared

Scott Wahab at CERT boothOne of the things I've found myself doing since joining CERT (Community Emergerncy Response Team) is to boost the program at our booth. This one, with teammate Scott Wahab, was part of a Safety Week health fair at the Starbucks roasting and distribution center in Minden.
Employees were mandated to at least walk through the fair, but could win prizes if they actually talked to people at the booths and got their passports stamped. We met quite a few young people who expressed their interest in taking the basic training class and joining CERT. They also agreed it's good to have the information to be prepared for emergencies.
What's cool about CERT is that the class is free, paid for by FEMA, and participants aren't required to join teams. Just getting this emergency self-sufficiency information out to people is the most important reason for CERT. If people form teams, that's icing on the cake.
CERT trains people to prepare themselves and their families to survive for a few days after a catastrophic emergency because first-responders are often overwhelmed. CERTs are trained in basic first aid, search and rescue, triage, shelter organization as well as sheltering in place, and so many other things, including having tools, and enough food and water to sustain themselves until help arrives and supply chains are restored.
Here at Rancho Peque&ntidle;o, our emergency preparedness received a good reality check recently when our well pump broke. Even though the repair folks were able to get things up and running again within a couple of days, I was thrilled to have bottles of water on hand to maintain our most basic needs. As anyone whose been without utilities for a day or two can tell you, it's much easier to live without electricity than water.
We were about to break out the camping gear, especially the little porta-potty we purchased. Gratefully, we didn't need to use that before the repairmen fixed the well, but we did run through the dozen water jugs and were about to tap into the 50-gallon barrel.
Frankly, this tiny break in our convenient way of life was a great drill to test our survival system. These little reality checks are critically important to work out the bugs that will always infest even the most well-laid plans.
So, sleep tight America. CERT is a good way to wake us up and teach us to survive. Hope you can find a CERT group in your area to learn some valuable skills. -- 6-7-2013


And It Goes Like It Goes...

locust tree blossomsAs it says in the flowing theme song from Norma Rae, life goes as it goes like the old river flows. That's NOT to say we are bored. There's quite a difference, and it probably takes a few decades of life to understand that.
This is our third summer in Carson Valley and the honeymoon hasn't waned. As we work in our gardens and watch new sprouts emerge, the glow of ever-flowing life excites us. As we drive around the valley, watching cows and calves bask in sunshine and rich grassy meadows, we are renewed by the wealth and bucolic wonder of ranch country life cycles.
In a large part of the valley, migrating water fowl rest and replenish in ponds and flooded fields of alfalfa. I wonder, though, how much longer all that water will last before it all dries up. Mid-summer? Early autumn?
It's difficult to believe Douglas County has garnered disaster relief from the continuing drought, but having to restrict one's water use robs a rancher of income from cutting and selling hay. The first year we were here, during the heaviest snow year in recent memory, ranchers had three cuts of their crop, some got four. Last year, and probably this one too, ranchers got only two. That's a one-third cut in pay, something that would rankle most information and technology workers. And the costs of fuel, employment of extra workers, and the purchase and maintenance of machinery cuts that income even further.
Yet, looking around, this valley appears to be Shangri La, with its barrier of high mountains against the onslaught of urban invaders, its backroad distance from major freeways, and its old-fashioned work ethics.  improved potato patchCarson Valley's population exploded about fifteen years ago with some of the heartier urban invaders (like Jeff and me), yet there's still a strong rancher mentality that sustains and keeps this valley sane.
Meanwhile, on Rancho Pequeño, we have learned to pace ourselves in order to sustain our little slice of bucolic food production. Little by little, we're cleaning up the winter debris and planting new vegies. The locust trees have burst open with pink blossoms that hang like grapes. My mint in the wine barrels was high enough to cut this morning to make sun tea.
We've improved the potato patch and added cabbage, sunflowers, and cucumbers to a space that is now surrounded by critter fencing.
fresh composted soil And very slowly, I've been able to spread some rich new compost from the two wire containers Jeff built two years ago. My plan is to plant corn, melons, and beans in this plot. Jeff shoveled Abby's horse manure, chicken manure, grass cuttings and other yard debris into these "cages," and we watered them down occasionally. Last week, when we pulled them open and I broke open the cube of compost, the deep, rich aroma of loamy goodness wafted into the air. Earthworms wriggled amidst the black soil. Where in the hell do they come from? How do they know? This is a mystery that will undoubtedly remain unsolved because the intrigue is much more satisfying than the knowing.
And so it goes like it goes. We've entered a time in life where the cycles of life are a joy rather than some indication of stagnation. Each year is different in its timing and weather patterns, inserting enough chaos to make things interesting. We continue to learn from Nature's lessons and challenges. Regardless of the pace of life or the assortment of mayhem, we continue to grow as the garden does, and to go like the old river flows. -- 6-1-2013


More Fun with Wild Food

dinner at the Ferranto'sAfter last week's success with mustard greens, Jeff and I joined our friends from the Backyard Farmers group, Ed and Gillian Ferranto, for foraging and quiche at their house. Despite the desert environment that surrounds their neighborhood, the Ferranto spread is one of the more verdant yards I've seen lately. Plenty of nutritious greens thrive in their backyard outside their raised garden beds.
First, we all followed Gillian, a master gardener and pure food enthusiast, through the yard, pointing to various weeds and listening to Gillian explain the names and uses of these plants. (I apologize, but my photos came out so badly that I hesitate to post them here. For a better look, check the links attached to the names.) Gillian has studied several books and other sources and has learned to use these plants in her own cooking.
I reached down and picked the leaf of a dandelion sort of thing, but the back ridge of the leaf was spiny. Gillian called this "wild lettuce" and wasn't keen enough on its flavor to add it to our dinner. But there were other delights next to the lettuce that she preferred.
Stork's Bill is a wild geranium with a tiny purple flower. It's a good pot green with lots of flavor. (By "pot", I mean that it's good to add to the soup or stew pot.)
While in Israel, I watched an old couple picking mallow in a vacant lot. The ruffly leaves were huge, about three inches in diameter, but here in the Great Basin, these are a tad smaller. One volunteered to live in our cold frame, so it will hopefully attain Middleastern dimensions. Anyway, Gillian said mallow has a bland flavor and doesn't cook down as other greens do, so it's a good one to bulk up the amount of greens in the dish.
Yarrow is probably familiar to every gardner as it is a pretty plant used in landscaping. It's lacy leaves can be added to the pot or used as a spice. One herbal medicine practitioner told us that if you injure yourself on a hike, for example, you can mash yarrow leaves and apply them directly to the open wound. Yarrow has antiseptic properties.
Not to be confused with the Carribean banana, this variety of plantain has a strong flavor. Pair it with mallow to decrease the flavor a bit.
Gillian showed us many more plants that can be used: lamb's quarters, pepper grass, purslane,wood sorrel, comfrey, and mullien.
Gillian's wild quichePurslane is a succulant and can be used to thicken a broth. I remember my sister picking several "four-leaf clovers" from a patch of wood sorrel in the Santa Cruz mountains. What luck! And Jeff wants to plant comfrey to feed to the chickens. Gillian agreed this would be a good source of protein for animals. Her goats are going to love it. The Romans use the oil-rich spears of mullein as torches, but these days, those same seeds attract birds to your yard.
After picking a large bunch of several of these plants, we washed, chopped, and sauteed them with scallions and butter to add to a quiche Gillian baked for us. It had a rich flavor that stood up to the beer and satisfied without additional side dishes. The variety of ways these plants can be used is limited only by the cook's imagination. Omelets, quiches, stews, soups, anything where you would use spinach, for example.
So, if you feel compelled to take a weed whacker to your backyard, stop and consider the possible food value. Why fight the weeds when there are so many that volunteer and flourish in your yard and are good to eat. Bon appetite! -- 5-20-2013


Poke Salad

lunchI've often fantasized about foraging for wild food. I've seen people do it during my stay in Israel on Kibbutz Usha. In Truckee, I gathered dandelion leaves and cooked them up for lunch as per the instructions of my favorite uncle, Harvey. He would be smiling at me today because I served another yummy lunch of tumbleweed mustard picked from our yard.
We all complain bitterly about the ease with which "weeds" grow in our grass, vegie and flower gardens. Why fight it? There is so much to learn and gain, in knowledge and health benefits, if we explore the use of wild food.
Care must be taken, of course. A competent mentor and good resources of information will protect explorers from premature death. Nobody wants that!
weed patchBetween last year's hot, windy summer and this spring's battle with irrigation system repair, a certain patch of grass has simply given up survival. Even reseeding didn't resurrect the landscape. However, a hearty patch of tumbleweed mustard has taken over this area of Rancho Pequeño.
At first, I picked the plants, roots and all, for the chickens, who didn't find them nearly as succulent as other weeds I've picked for them. They've all become a harem of princesses. Oh, they'll eat the stuff after awhile, but they have to be desperate.
Then, at our Backyard Farmers' gathering, I showed the patch to the guests and one astute backyard farmer, Gillian, told me these were mustards and that all parts of all mustards were edible. They can be bitter, but picked when young, they can be quite tasty.
tumbleweed mustardNext day, Gillian posted some reference links to our Backyard Farmers Facebook page. This one gives good identification information for mustards in general. The other came from the UNR Coop Ext. Weed Control site and it scared the bejesus out of me.
Emboldened by the other link, I decided to give these fresh and very willing volunteers to my food production efforts a try. The one key thought was 'if it burns the mouth, it's toxic." Okay, here goes.
dandelion and mustard leavesI filled a small basket with leaves, only picking two leaves from each plant. Among these leaves, I found a few dandelions and added a few of those to my poke salad. At the time, I was thinking of adding them to a bag of Trader Joe's salad mix because of the strong flavor they might have.
I didn't even have to pick leaves from every plant in the patch. I soon had a generous amount, about enough to fill a quart bottle. I knew they would shrink down if I cooked them, though.
rinsed leavesI rinsed each leaf, making sure there were no bugs or other litter. Several elm tree seeds got washed down the drain along with a couple of twigs. The leaves were fairly clean, actually. No bugs and no spray.
Then Jeff came in to see what I was up to. We both tasted a raw leaf. "Hmm, tastes like spinach," he said. "Not bad at all. Why don't you cook them in bacon fat?" So I prepared a pan with a teaspoon of fat. Then I hunted down some potato patties and some cheese leftover from the gathering to round out the lunch.
Adding a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to the leaves, it didn't take much longer to cook them than to nuke the potato patties. Despite the reduced size of the bunch, there was enough for each plate.
Both of us reacted the same. YYYYUUUUMMMM! And picked just out of the backyard, a luscious bunch of weeds ... sorry ... poke salad for lunch.
So, instead of fighting the weeds, embrace them. Learn their secrets and uses. And don't be afraid to take a taste of a raw leaf. If it doesn't burn, it's probably a good sign. And if it doesn't kill the chickens, chances are it won't kill you. -- 5-9-2013


Hope Springs...

Spring's arrival in northern Nevada has always been a cause of contention for gardeners. Tomatoe enthusiasts are cautioned to wait until the snow melts off the Peavine mountains to be sure the last killing frost has past. Today's newspaper weatherman gave us more hope. 'Just follow the calendar instead of folklores and, using protective measures, plant those tomatoes now.'
blueberry budsOkay. I planted the tomatoes in the cold frame and have a sheet of Alumanet to protect them at night. We're still dipping into the mid thirties around here. Meanwhile, I'm fretting more about whether or not my little blueberry bush will survive and bear fruit this year.
Last year, when the air and sunlight were still relatively cool, this hearty survivor of three transplantings, two Truckee winters, and a move to lower elevation, leafed out fully and gave me hope. Then the sun grew hotter in June and the little punk dropped its leaves.
Thankfully, it didn't die, as my wussy Tombstone rose did. It maintained itself through another year. Then it leafed out again and, as you can see in the photo, has clusters of blueberry buds.
I clutch my cereal bowl in giddy anticipation.
But I'm wondering what went wrong last year. Should I shift it under the shade of the wisteria vine? Did I water it too much? Not enough? It's planted in peatmoss with a garland of pine needles as mulch. We were told blueberries love acidic soil. Is this too acidic? Did I kill the leaves with too much fish emulsion?
I can only watch and hope that it will continue to grow this year. Maybe last year's transplant into the peatmoss and container was just one transplanting too much. If I'd just leave it alone ....
tubs of mint, etc.So, I turned away from it and cleaned the winter mulch from the wine tubs and planted cilantro seeds. As you can see, the chives are thriving. I've never had such good luck with chives. They wintered well and love the sun. Okay. Leave well enough alone!
I also bought a couple of huge though lightweight tubs and planted lettaces, carrots and beets in those. Of course, I'll undoubtedly get a bumper crop of baby elm trees. Seeds from these trees have been snowing down upon us for days and there are still billions left on the trees. These things need no help in surviving anything. They'll greet the cockroaches when they emerge after the nuclear appocalypse.
petuniasHaving taken care of our culinary experiments, I bought a flat of petunias, another plant that will survive anything. Then again, some of these almost didn't survive the ride home, but I have hopes they will spring eternal and flood the containers with color and fancy.
So, I've finished all I'm going to do to assemble our garden. Again, I can only hope the apple tree, which gave us so much last year, didn't get nailed by the late April snowstorm. Half its blossoms wilted in the cold, but some managed to stay closed during the storm.
While the weatherman gave us permission to throw caution, and seedlings, to the wind, he also informed us that the last frost historically comes no later than mid-May. Of course, weather is not observing historical patterns these past couple of years. Or is it?
Our friend, Rick, who works with the scientists at the WNC Observatory and the Desert Research Institute, told me that Nevada climate follows 100-year and sometimes 500-year climate cycles. We're in drought this year, but what will happen next year?
Even with all our technology, it's still a crap shoot to predict the weather patterns. The gods are laughing and all we may be able to do is hope that spring will be eternal. -- 5-4-2013


CERTs and a Hazmat Drill

CERT bagAs I watched the news about the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent capture of the perps, the scenario repeated in my mind as to how I could have helped. I imagined carrying my CERT bag to such events, prepared to dive in as so many people did to help the injured.
Nevada has had its share of similar catastrophes during the past two years: the IHOP shooting, the plane crash at the Reno Air Races, a train wreck, and numerous wildland fires. All of these events, especially the IHOP shooting, have haunted me. How to prepare and react cogently to such events?
Last year, Jeff persuaded me to join him in a twenty-hour CERT training. We would learn basic first aid, emergency site assessment, setup of triage sites and operations centers, search and rescue. Mainly, we would learn how to help ourselves and our neighbors so we don't add to the problems of first responders. I was gratified to discover how valuable this training could be.
Luckily, we haven't needed it in any real event so far. Yesterday, though, about a dozen of us CERTs (Citizens Emergency Response Team) practiced setting up and breaking down an Emergency Operations Center. From the time we were called and reported to the EOC to the time we completed the setup, it took a little over an hour. Pretty good time, according to our Coordinator, Ronna Hubbard.
Even for those who work there all the time, the practice was useful. Lots of little glitches were discovered. And they decided to hold the practice every six months to hone our skills and the process. Plus, it was just a lot of fun to get together in a drill and get to know each other and our workability a little better.
Twenty hour trainings are really great, but information retention goes down the tube quickly. Also, people don't learn that extraordinary skill that can't really be taught in a classroom: compatibility. Each of us has a wealth of knowledge and experience from our work lives, etc., but meshing that and our attitudes, quirks, and idiosyncracies makes the whole exercise more effective.
So, besides the luscious donuts and coffee, we acquired a satisfying amount of personal interaction that's going to make a huge difference when we're mustered again for the real thing.
By the way, CERT organizations can always use more people. And even if you decide not to join a team after the initial training, you will have received the basic knowledge that will save you and your neighbors in the aftermath of a disaster. And the way things are going these days, a little of such knowledge won't be a dangerous thing. -- 4-20-2013


So You Want to Buy a Baby Chicken

Here's the scenario: You enter a feed store in Spring and hear the soft, tantalizing cheeps of baby chicks. Oh, they're so cute. You want one. Maybe two. Oh what the heck! The store is offering a bag of chick feed if you buy six.
starter kitThen again, you may be tempted to buy a chick or two as gifts for children. What a fun experience to show them the process of life. Oh, the folly ... right?
Actually, you can raise pullets like these in the photo below fairly easily and learn how to produce some of the best tasting eggs you'll every eat. Here are ten tips on how:
1. Starter Kit: Chicks need warmth, food, and water. Most feed stores sell an array of necessities for your babies. The short list includes:
a water container with head-sized openings to allow chicks to drink without drowning;
a feeder which holds plenty of food for a day or two;
a heat lamp which can later be used to heat a coop if you live in frigid climates.
2. Housing: You can furnish your own cardboard box or buy one from the store to protect the chicks from other household animals and even from children's eager hands. Too much handling, or should I say mauling, kills baby chicks in no time.
pullets3. Food: Chicken "scratch" comes in two types, crumbles and pellets. Crumbles are best for chicks, but as they mature, pellets last longer and don't "get lost" if spilled in the bedding. Also, chick food has an antibiotic added to keep your chicks healthy during those vulnerable first months. Once they start laying eggs, usually at about six months, switch to non-anti-biotic food. You wouldn't want the anti-biotic in your eggs.
4. Bedding: Straw, not hay, makes really good bedding for chickens of all ages. A shallow layer in a box gives chicks a cozy place to nestle without creating too great a fire hazard from the heat lamp.
If you decide to raise chickens, a thick layer in the coop is good for about six months before being replaced with fresh straw. The bedding breaks down the fecal material into a lovely compostable fertilizer for your garden.
coop5. Hen House: Coops come in all sizes and shapes. A basic shed fitted with roosting bars and nesting boxes is great. I saw one set-up where the people used a large plastic "hoop house" generally used as a greenhouse. Inside, they built ascending racks of roosting bars and covered the ground with a thick layer of straw. The flock of almost two dozen hens had plenty of space to wander around, peck, and be chickens.
6. Space: The minimum space recommended for one chicken is about a square meter. If you only have one chicken, you can house her in a cage that most stores carry that is exactly two-by-two feet. I would suggest, however, that you provide a fenced yard and coop where a small flock can run and scratch and not go crazy from being cramped. Also, if you live in an area with raptors, enclose the top of the yard if possible.
If you have horses, chickens do a great job of cleaning the yard of fly larvae and other undesireable critters. In fact, chickens will eat anything. Give them your kitchen scraps, including meat, yard waste and grass clippings, and watch them devour it all. This varied diet will enrich their eggs.
7. Social Order: The term "pecking order" comes from the society of chickens. For about a year, our flock of twelve hens and a rooster we named Cogburn, pecked each others' feathers until some were almost naked. We learned from a feed store advisor that if we got rid of the rooster, the hens would grow back their feathers. We did and it worked. They are now fully feathered and gorgeous. Plus, we didn't need the heat lamp in the hen house this winter.
Rooster Cogburn and his harem8. Bullies: The pecking order continued as normal, but one hen got much more than was safe. We purchased a two-by-two cage, nesting box and a smaller water container and set her up in her own little condo next to the chicken yard. She could still hang with her friends on the other side of the fence while being safe from the bullies.
9. Loneliness: Our lone hen thrived through the winter and started laying eggs again in the spring. We took this as a sign she was healthy; but was she happy? I noticed that she often thrust her head through the gaps in the caging and pushed against it as if she wanted a bigger space to run. Our feed store offered to take her back and place her with another customer who had a huge open yard. Our little hen could range freely with plenty of room to stay away from bullies.
10. Adding New Chicks: Now, it's chick time again and the feed store is offering chicks and pullets to tempt us. But how do we merge new chicks with an established flock, especially when there are bullies? Once again, the feed store oracle rescued us.
If there's a hen who likes to sit on the eggs as if she's brooding a nest of babies, put the new chicks with her and watch them for a couple of hours. That hen will protect them from the meanies until they all accept one another.
Or, put them in the smaller cage, such as the two-by-two, inside the larger chicken pen and let the hens and chicks get acquainted before releasing the chicks into the main flock.
eggsWe've yet to try this, but it's good to know for the future. We're quite happy with our little flock and the abundance of eggs they give us. Hopefully these ten tips will help you get started on a fun and tasty adventure of your own.
By the way, we didn't bother eating Cogburn. We're heard from other friends who spent wads of money and a miserable time killing, plucking, then stewing the rooster for coq au vin that it just wasn't worth the effort.
In fact, we've been told by other chicken owners that cooking an old hen whose stopped laying isn't really worth it either. She's usually old and spent after all those years of laying eggs. Time to give her an honorable burial. She's earned it.
A basket full of "cackleberries," however, is definitely worth the effort. A dozen hens will produce more eggs than the average family can consume. There will be plenty to share with friends or return to the days when "egg money" supplimented the household budget.
Granted, chickens will only lay eggs from around the spring equinox to the autumnal equinox. Let them rest during the winter and your will be able to enjoy your hens from about five years. -- 4-15-2013


New Slogan for Nevada

sagebrush along a Nevada roadGov. Sandoval unveiled a new campaign to promote the unique place that is Nevada with the slogan: Nevada: A World Within, A State Apart.
Nevada is indeed a very unique world. Some would even write it off as a wasteland and drive through it as fast as possible. Or they would only frequent the casinos of Reno and Las Vegas. That to them is Nevada.
This new campaign, however, invites others to explore Nevada in a deeper, richer way. It's initially scrubby appearance hides the many cultures that live here: Paiute/Washo/Shoshone, Basque, Italian, German. Ranchers here still embrace the centuries-old vaquero traditions in working their cattle while integrating new agricultural strategies. The hard-scrabble gold miner of yore still lives in the heart of more technologically sophisticated gold miners, making Nevada among the top five gold producers in the world.
Several high tech businesses are relocating to Nevada because of the business-friendly environment as well as the natural environment. There is little reason why solar and wind energy production can't join geothermal, gold mining, ranching, and gaming as the top industries here.
Beyond these, though, is a landscape that often defies imagination. This land is filled with surprises around every corner. The sagebrush sea yields to aspen groves folded within the mountainsides. Basalt caves and hot springs beckon. Migrating birds take their rest here, some deciding to stay in the reeds and rushes of our lakes.
This landscape has weeded out those not tough enough to survive it to produce a hearty yet friendly people who cherish freedom. But that freedom and its symbol, the wild horse, are in jeopardy.
Here's a letter I wrote this morning to Gov. Sandoval. If you wish, feel free to use it as an example of your letter to our Governor and the Legislature.
Dear Gov. Sandoval:
Your campaign to promote Nevada is a winner. I love the slogan. The more we promote the unique beauty of Americaís Outback, the more likely we will attract visitors who will appreciate and want to protect it.
While Iíve lived in Nevada only two years, I grew up and lived at its edges, Salt Lake City and Truckee. Many visits to Nevada have inspired me to write two books about the people Iíve met and seen here.
One of my cherished memories is where my husband and I stopped along the road to Jarbidge to watch a herd of pronghorns on one side and a small band of wild horses on the opposite side of the road. Belly deep in grass, these animals were fat and healthy. Only half the herd of antelope ran off before being entised back by the members who stayed to watch us.
Furthermore, what travelers along I-80 donít see is the rich, green places in Nevada that surprise and nourish us.
Another memory, however, is one of deep disappointment. A friend was regaling us about her trip to Red Rock Canyon. She was especially delighted by all the burros there.
Months later, my husband and I went to Red Rock to discover that all the burros had been removed by the BLM. The ranger told us it was because of drought. I was angered and appalled. Were these animals, who had been living in desert conditions for generations, really that much at risk?
In the ad campaign, the idea that Nevadans love their freedom popped out as one of the prime qualities of this state. Nevada allows people, for the most part, to be who they want to be; far more than in California where, ironically, so many ďfreedomĒ movements began. Burning Man is an example of how one of those movements moved to Nevada for expression and growth.
How can the people, and indeed our precious wildlife, continue to be free when nearly 80 percent of this state is under the jurisdiction of the Federal government? How can Nevada State officials allow the BLM to remove a precious resource for tourism and squander billions of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate thousands of these animals in conditions far worse than their natural habitat? Even the attempts of wild horse advocates for alternative solutions have been denied.
The BLM is on a power trip here; and as long as we Nevadans allow the Feds to control this state, we will never truly be free.
Please, Gov. Sandoval, use your influence and that of the legislature to get our state back. Nevadans should control the fate of this state, not the Feds.



Great Basin Springtime

chives in snowBoy, am I glad I didn't plant those tomato starts or clean the mulch out of my patio container garden. That's snow at the base of the chives in the photo. Such is springtime in the Great Basin.
It is Tradition to have a snowstorm sometime in April that will crush the tulips, break the newly-leafed tree limbs, and sting the fruit blossoms to ruin the crop. That's Tradition with a capital T. Tevya would understand.
With global climate change, the huge two-foot dumps of snow that fell upon Salt Lake City when I was young are mere dustings in Minden. Actually, I don't know if that's climate change or not. These are two different locations, SLC is at about 6000 feet elevation and Minden is 4500. Rancho Pequeño is in the banana belt along the eastern foothills while the center of the valley is lower and about 5-8 degrees cooler. We know this because we've watched the temp gauge in our car show the drop in degrees as we drive westward on Johnson Lane.
 today's stormAstonishing, isn't it. This isn't a huge valley but there are definite differences in temperature. Most of the winter, Jeff and I will sit by our fireplace, watching the storm clouds descend upon Genoa and the western communities at the foot of the Carson Range. The vortex of wind whirls these winter storms downward, creating a colder and snowier winter for those folks than for us. This, of course, agonizes me. Poor dears.
Then again, we are in what's called the rain shadow which robs our side of the valley of much-needed moisture. Storms blow over us and land in eastern Nevada and Utah. Skiers in Utah benefit from this because all that wet heavy snow of the Sierra Nevada is all dried out by the time it reaches the Wasatch Range where Alta, Snowbird, Park City, and Deer Valley are located. Anyone who has skied those resorts have experienced the joy of fluffy powder snow. Nothing like Sierra cement.
tomato startsThis lack of moisture and late storms, however, makes spring planting of vegie gardens a crap shoot. How appropriate for Nevada.
At the Backyard Farmers meeting yesterday, we discussed the issue of whether to start vegies from seeds or starts. Most liked to start seeds, but I've had much better luck with starts. I also feel good about starts that are grown in local nurseries. Starts planted in our cold frame give us an edge on the blustery and variable weather that is northern Nevada.
Luckily, (I hope) our little fruit trees' tiny blossoms are closed tightly against today's storm. And our beautiful and prolific apple tree has barely leafed out. Maybe this cold weather won't harm the fruit crop this summer; and perhaps will be the snap the apples need to give them that crisp texture that is so wonderful.
 blueberryMeanwhile, our sole blueberry that has suffered neglect by tenants in Truckee and two subsequent transplantings has leafed out a bit. Last year, it did this too, but as the heat rose in summer, it dropped its leaves and went dormant. So, maybe this cold snap will help it grow this summer and give us blueberries. And I've got to find a cooler place somewhere on this spread where it can thrive without being coddled.
Thus, we wait. We bide our time with clean-up chores, our green thumbs itching to dig in dirt, for spring to actually and faithfully arrive. Spring in the Great Basin can be exciting, with lots of fuzzy green stuff popping up between the sagebrush. We all rejoice with the warmth after our long albeit mild winters. Nothing like the blizzards of the midwest. We are lucky here, but we have our own climatic issues too. Everyone does. And the frustrations of Great Basin springtime will soon fade into full and delightful summer. - 4-8-2013


Happy Easter and Joyous Passover

sky blossomsRegardless of the lack of rain and snow, despite the frigid cold of this past winter, Spring has arrived in the Carson Valley. While many trees throughout town have fully bloomed, our fruit trees are taking their time. Only today, Easter Sunday, did they display their first promise of a productive summer to come.
The cherry tree that failed last year because of lack of water is returning this year with new growth. Amidst the crusted fruit of last year, new buds are opening today. This tree is literally coming back from the dead.
new tree blossomsAll of the baby fruit trees that Jeff worked so hard to plant over the past two years have buds on them. Some reminds me of the fuzzy pussy willows that were so much a part of my childhood. This may be the first year we'll see more fruit. We just have to nurture them and protect them from harm.

-- Easter Sunday 2013


Kudos for my Beloved

Jeff at his home officeToday is Jeff's last day working in advanced tools support for IBM. On Monday, he will begin working with Big Data, a relatively new software technology that helps organizations analyze huge amounts of data.
What's great from my point of view is that he stays with IBM and he stays home.
One of the key benefits that IBM has given its employees is telecommuting. For the past six or so years, Jeff has been able to work from home, allowing him to forego his thousand-mile-a-week commute. Imagine the savings in time, fuel, and environmental degradation?
In tech support, he's been able to keep in contact with his colleagues in Linexa, KS as well as colleagues and customers around the planet. Idea exchanges and consultations take place through same-time conversations on computers, emails, and that old stand-by, the telephone. Just pick up the receiver and say Hello!
Meanwhile, a worker doesn't have interruptions at the cubicle by bored co-workers and supervisors who want to look busy. The work gets done, and ideas and information gets shared in an appropriate manner. A lesson to those CEOs who desire to own their employees lives.
Perhaps I digress here, but it's certainly nice to have Jeff home and participating in the same community and general lifestyle as the rest of the family. At one point in our lives in Truckee, Jeff was working in San Jose, Valerie was attending college in Chico, and I was shoveling snow in Truckee. Our lives were so different, it made family integration difficult. Weekends were much too short to reconnect. Also, I tortured my Beloved on these weekends by asking him "Let's go for a ride."
Right. Ask the man who drives a thousand miles a week to take you for a drive. Granted, I often took my own "road trips" when he was gone, but it wasn't the same. I wanted him confined in a small space - the car - without TVs or computer screens or anything else to distract him. The poor man never had a life of his own except while he was driving to and from wherever.
While IBM is stepping back a bit from the telecommuting idea, they allow Jeff and others to work from home because they live so far away from offices. What IBM has given these employees with telecommuting, though, is their lives back. The stress levels dissipates. Workers can pursue hobbies, get involved in their communities, get to know their families. Face time with the family is much more important to our societies than face time at work. Think latchkey kids. Think isolation, alienation, frustration, and school violence.
I certainly have strayed from the opening paragraph here. This is a big and exciting move for Jeff. It offers opportunities for growth in a a new field of endeavor. It's like a blast of fresh air for him.
I'm just so grateful to have Jeff home and pursuing a new and up-and-coming product that will stretch his talents and still allow him to work at home. He's beyond thrilled. This is something that he's been interested in for a long time; and for the past few weeks, he has been devouring as much training material as he can find to prepare himself.
What's more, his new manager has been forthcoming with concise yet thorough training materials to help Jeff hit the ground at a sprint come Monday. Everyone in this department will be ramping up new skills. This is the newest thing and everyone is excited. In a way, it's like working for a start-up, yet the stability and traditions of an established company will be there.
So, the gods are smiling. Good times are ahead. Congratulations, Jeff, for hanging in there all these years, for being such a hard worker, and such a patient man. And good luck to you in this new adventure. It's great to see that old twinkle back in your eyes. -- 3-29-2013


New Frontiers in Sewing

my hexagon quit topMy intrigue with a hexagon quilt kit at Fabric Chicks Creative Oasis launched me into a new sewing project that even stymied my friend and mentor, Norma Coffey.
Norma paints with thread, makes prairie points, and constructs placemats shaped like poinsettias, etc. etc. etc., but when I asked her how to sew together hexagon pieces, she looked stunned. Tilting her head, she grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and started to scribble. That failing her, she and I both examined Beth Watt's ancestrial quilt top that hangs from the door into the main part of the shop. Tiny, one-inch hexagons proved to be sewn together by hand.
According to my other friend and mentor, Linda Brush, "hand" is a four-letter word. If it can't be done by machine, it can't be done. Thus, Norma and I looked at this lovely old piece of handiwork made by Beth's grandmother (I think) and marveled. The thought of working hexagons together on a machine seemed unimaginable.
Norma's support, friendship, and mentorship, however, have given me a lot of confidence over the two years since I first met her. She even coached me through my knee replacement recovery. So, I owe a lot to this fine lady. Eventually, though, the student and teacher come to a place where they are both at a loss and one, or preferably both, have an opportunity to learn something new.
So, I took my newly-purchased kit of colorful hexagons home and laid them out on the felt wall. After I finally worked out the color design, I consulted my alternate Oracle of Knowledge: the Internet. YouTube specifically. Bless it!
There for all to see and learn was a very clear video showing how to sew hexagons together by machine. Will wonders never cease?
Clear enough, I thought; but as has usually been my bane, what looks clear in demonstration never works the same when I actually try it myself. That's one reason why I failed math classes.
The next obstacle, then, was facing my fears and just doing it. This was, afterall, an inexpensive kit and I could afford to work upon this little sewing etude without grief over failure. What the heck! If it works, I can donate it to the shawl ministry up in Truckee. If it doesn't work, then I can throw it in the growing pile of scraps to recycle into something else. Life goes on.
floral fabric for frameIt took a number of days over a few weeks to gird up my loins enough to do this. Sewing the hexagons into rows first, I then turned and folded them to attach the rows together. The first two rows came out wonky, of course. Then magic happened. Suddenly, I could work them without getting them crooked. The struggle turned into fun.
Finally, I pressed the finished piecework. Pressing hides a multitude of sins, you know. Hey, it looks pretty good, I thought, throwing it back on the wall to admire. Even Jeff was impressed; and it's always a major coup to impress my math-endowed husband.
Now, I've got to frame it, choosing this floral fabric for that purpose as well as the backing. I realized I'm going to have to cut and insert a couple of half-hexagons on the ends, but I'm going to slice off the points on the sides and call it good.
So, this little etude is coming out all right. And perhaps I'll do another one. It was fun and a lot easier than I expected, especially after I soldiered through it and got over all the humps of doubt. -- 3-25-2013


Spark Renewed

view from Faye-Luther TrailYou know, all it takes is a walk in the park ... or on a trail ... to perk up your energies.
Remember back in January when I rhapsodized about my post-holiday laziness, not having the energy to do much more than play with my Kindle Fire and ignore my resolution to walk to the mailbox? Well, this week, I finally started walking the dogs to get the mail.
It's just a block, but it's uphill, which challenges a long-sedentary body. This week, though, the temperatures reached the 70s and the desert trails near our house called me to venture forth.
A couple of weeks ago, Val outlined my training program for climbing Mt. Whitney: baby steps, Mom, baby steps; first walk to the mailbox; then walk to the crossroads - that's a quarter mile away; then walk to the top of the ridge; then to the painted rocks - that's about a mile; and after that, .... Sorry Val, I stopped at the mile marker.
But my daughter's right. Such retraining to be part of the functioning human race takes baby steps. So, Buzz, Cinch and I hiked up the incline to the mailboxes. As the cattle dogs frolicked in the sage, flushing quail and chasing rabbits and other hoodoos, I watched and felt the Itch. It got me. To hell with the mailbox. I'm ready to go to the crossroads.
And I did. I wove my way through the sage to the dirt road that leads eastward and kept walking. My knees and hips loosened to the pace and filled with fresh, nutritious blood. At the crossroads, I turned and scanned our beautiful Carson Valley and the Carson Range to the west, forming a solid wall against the angst of California.
Fresh air filled my atrophied lungs. My body tingled with an awakening. My heart beat with a steady, strong rhythm. Most of all, I wasn't tired. My hips ached a tad, but the knees were ready to carry me back home.
The next day, I leashed up Cinch to control her wildness until we reached the desert. Then she launched with manic glee to flushing and chasing and hoodoo-ing. Buzz ran at first, then slowed to an easy trot, stopping to "read the newspaper" of tantalizing aromas. For me, the trail beckoned. I spotted the top of the ridge as my goal and ventured forth.
At the crossroads, I veered southward until I found another trail. There are hundreds carved throughout this desert. I followed it up the hill until I reached a mid-point and turned around to gauge my progress and to enjoy the view.
A friend had told of a pair of wild horses that have hung around her horse paddock with her three boys. I looked toward her house, but found no horses. Her news, frankly, was welcome because of recent BLM gathers of wild herds in the area. Apparently, there are bands that still flourish around us and manage to escape the capture nets.
Then, to my dismay, another neighbor was fast approaching on her Fresian. This magnificent horse is a steady beast, but my cattle dogs are prone to herd such animals and I didn't want to create a rodeo. Luckily, she must have seen me and the dogs and turned in a direction that would avoid us.
Such is the self-regulation on these BLM lands. Whenever Val has ridden Abby out here, she's found that dirt bikers have never given her cause for alarm. There's an etiquette here that is carefully observed most of the time. There are also other people who live off the grid and want to be left alone, or criminal elements (cartel drug growers) who also want to be left alone and use nefarious means to insure their privacy.
With this knowledge and trepidation of getting myself into trouble, I faced the ridge top and continued my ascent. Within minutes I reached it and slowly turned a 360 to get my bearings and enjoy the beauty. I was back home. On track at last. Back to my strong hiking self of a few years ago when I walked all over Hawk's Peak in Tahoe Donner. And I did it without the aid of trekking poles. Even my balance had returned.
It's a wonderful thing to get one's life back. To recover former strength and vigor. And as spring and summer approach, I'm promising myself to wander the hills, with or without the dogs, and with or without Jeff. He's not a walker, but prefers to explore the intricacies of technology by reading. That's his life, but it's not mine. I need to move.
So the next baby step - and perhaps it's not so tiny - is to leave my bodyguard and companion to his reading without making it feel like a separation. Become independent without cutting the cord that binds us. That's quite a step between two people who love each other yet need space.
Then again, his mother advised me when Jeff and I first married: Let there be spaces in your togetherness. -- 3-15-2013


Bovine Cuteness

Winter has usually been a real downer for me, especially when we lived in Truckee where the snowdrifts grew up the sides of the house and buried us for six to eight months. When we moved to Minden, I knew the snow would be much much less, but the Great Basin color scene of brown, tan, and grey would replace those growing snowdrifts at pushing my mood into the ground.
cows and calvesLittle did I know that Carson Valley has a secret asset: bovines. Specifically, calves. And February, the most winter-weary month of the year, is when the calves are born. This year they had it lucky. January and February were the driest months since the 1970s.
Baby animals are usually the essence of cuteness, but cows of any age have a quirky kind of countenance that brings out the "aw" factor. And baby bovines just bowl me over with their playful exuberance. But why do they time their natal debut for February?
To celebrate this yearly tradition, Minden holds the Eagles and Agriculture Festival. This event invites photographers, birders, and other bovineophiles to tour local ranches and watch migrating bald eagles and other raptors feast upon the afterbirths of calves. Rather than pay the hefty prices for this event, though, many people stop on the shoulder of Hwy 395, binoculars in hand, and watch the cow population double itself, hopefully to catch sight of one of our nation's symbols doing its thing.
This is one of those wonderful times when domestic and wild come together in a synergistic rite. It's one of those natural processes that prove that the cattle business doesn't really disrupt wildlife, but actually improves conditions for them.
The way cattle hooves churn up the soil, for example, provides better conditions for grass to grow. Also, a pasture full of cows is better for Nature than a subdivision of McMansions.
There are so many cattle and hay ranches in Carson Valley, I've heard it referred to as "cow land". And indeed, it is. While there are almost 47,000 people in Douglas County, there must be at least twice that number of bovines. This valley's European-American pioneers established several ranches 150 years ago, most of which are still raising cattle and hay to provide food for America's carnivores.
While I think calves are cute, they're also hamburgers on the hoof. For the next two years, though, these little guys will feed on rich grass relatively free of harrassment by predators except for the occasional coyote who might think he's big enough stuff to take on a steer.
This morning at pilates, I heard about a place in Genoa, NV, Trimmer Outpost, that sells locally grown grass-fed beef. The woman told us she just bought forty pounds of assorted meats, such as beef, lamb, etc., for about $250. And it's good stuff: steaks, roasts, chops, and not a lot of if ground beef.
I'm thrilled to know about this new outlet for buying local meats. I'm coming close to the end of our supply of beef we bought from a ranch near Quincy, CA.
Meanwhile, I must have a denial factor in my genes as I stop next to a meadow full of cows and calves and laugh at the young'uns cavorting around like ... well, calves. Like most babies, they're filled with wonder and excitement as they explore the realms of their childhood paradise. And like every animal, humans too, they will suffer that day of days when their paradise will end.
Until that day, however, they will enjoy a life that we humans can envy. And their destiny, both at their debut and their end, is to provide food. All things considered, that's not a bad gig. -- 3-7-2012

Today's Coincidence: If you have about twenty minutes of spare time, this TED lecture: Allan Savory: How to green the desert and reverse climate change proves that desertification can be remedied by re-introducing large herds of cattle and sheep in what he calls "Planned Grazing." He claims that we can bring the carbon levels in the atmosphere back to pre-Industrial levels regardless of what happens with fossil fuel usage. Interesting turn-around in academic thinking.

Empty Nest

Skipper's empty condoPerhaps my readers will recall the dilema months ago when I had to separate Skipper, my Buff Orpington hen, because she had suddenly become the omega and the others were pecking her to death. For nearly a year, she had to live in her own condo, a two-foot square cage set up with heated water, nesting box, and food.
Not a bad deal, really, but after so many months, she was struggling to squeeze through the wire mesh to freedom. Even a life where all survival needs are met, the call of Freedom is just too strong.
I decided to find a new home for her, but like any mother, I wanted to find a safe, open and welcoming place for her to spend the remainder of her life, even if that would only be three or four more years.
About a mile away from Rancho Pequeño is a family with about two acres of land. They board horses and have a huge flock - I counted about forty hens - running free in the horse paddock. This is a perfect way to keep horse paddocks clean of fly larvae and other creepy-crawlies. And I've often stopped and watched them peck around and be chickens. This was exactly what I wanted for Skipper.
free range chickensI acquired the phone number, but because of my current mode of procrastination, I didn't call. Instead, I talked to Wendy at S and W Feed yesterday when I went in to buy chicken scratch. "Oh, we'll be glad to rehome her for you. I have a lady in Dayton who has a huge place for her chickens. There will be plenty of room for your hen to get away from bullies."
I was thrilled and raced home to bring Skipper in for transfer.
As Skipper quietly sat in the carrier, calm and serene dispite being taken from her condo and shoved into a box, I stood near where Wendy was selling starter equipment for a couple who were buying chicks. At one point, Wendy saw me and stopped. "Oh, is that your hen?"
I nodded and held her up for Wendy and the couple to see. "She's a beauty isn't she? And she's started laying again. We've gotten three eggs in the past week." I said.
Wendy looked at the couple and said, "Orpington's are really good mommies if you want a hen to take care of your chicks." The couple got excited at the prospect, and the woman said, "Oh, we'd love to take him."
"Her," I said. "She's a hen. He's don't lay eggs."
"Oh," the woman nodded. "We'd be glad to give him a home."
I stepped back a bit. Then the man said to her "we're moving in two days. What are you going to do with her while we move?"
I stepped away further. Why are you people buying twelve chicks and all the stuff for them if you're moving?
I looked at Wendy and said "I'll just put her in that pen outside." Wendy grinned widely and nodded.
"Oh, but we'd still like to take her," the man said as he followed me toward the door. "I just need to figure out how we can work it all."
"That's all right," I said as politely as I could, even though my heart was racing at the prospect of my avian daughter ending up with such clueless people. Granted, there's a bit of a learning curve with caring for chickens, although they are relatively easy after one gets the hang of it. And the folks at S and W Feed are really good with information. But if a person can't even discern the gender of an animal ... well, I turned away from the man and carried Skipper out to the pen in the parking lot.
SkipperMaybe some other person wouldn't have been so squeamish about handing over a chicken to anybody who was willing. After all, Skipper's just a chicken. She's just a chicken for pete's sake. After caring and feeding an animal, especially one who has allowed me to take away her eggs, there's a larger sense of responsibility and gratitude I feel a need to extend to Skipper. She trusted me enough to allow me to pick her up and stuff her into a cat carrier and dump her out into a strange pen next to another pen of suddenly attentive roosters. Her world had suddenly expanded and she was a tad nervous.
I watched her peck at stones and slowly look around at her new surroundings for awhile. I laughed at the banty rooster pacing the fence line, trying to get her attention. Then I turned and walked to my car. I watched the couple drive away with their twelve chicks and accessories, relieved that Skipper would undoubtedly go where people know a rooster from a hen and what that's all about. -- 2-26-2013

Creative Sparks

Sometimes you just have to immerse yourself into something trivial before the creative juices spark. Then again, maybe it's the end of a long bout with the flu and the warming of the weather.
denim applique quilt Whatever it is, today I was far more productive than I've been in a long time. Since the holidays, in fact, when Jeff gave me that ... THING! That seductive little Kindle Fire. So, as I wrote in an earlier Rave, I've been playing lots of games and exploring this wonderful little device.
But nothing much was getting done except some quilting. Going to Fabric Chicks twice a week has helped me stay on course with that. A class in using old denim jeans sparked me into making this fun quilt. Indeed, Jeff dragged a huge and heavy box of old jeans into the house and I used a handy little Skilh cutter to prepare them. Then I learned to machine applique the flowers. Beth also carries flannel batiks in her store and they make up the colored squares.
blanket stitch around quilt edgeAll that sewing, though, nearly wore me and my machine to a nub, so I decided to blanket stitch the edges instead of binding them. Beth told me I'm the only person she knows who still ties quilts instead of quilting them. It's the old fashioned in me. Sometimes, especially when the grand feat of quilting is just too much to endure, a simple needle and thread in hand will help me get through it.
This stitching is going to take more time than I thought because of the dense fabric; but I just wanted to give myself a rest. It appears that I'm entering a new phase of laziness. I do a little task, then play a Kindle game. Do something else for a few minutes, then return to the Kindle. What New Year's resolutions?
Anyway, back on topic here, I awoke this morning and dragged myself into the kitchen as usual. Jeff had already fed the dogs, retrieved the paper, and made coffee. He was about to get up and start work. I'd feel guilty about my lack of morning industry, but I'm retired.
Then, as I worked the crossword, I started thinking about one of three novels I've started in which I've gotten mired. Occasionally, I thought of a plot twist here, and plot twist there, in any of the three; but this morning, the epiphanies pulled me from the barcalounger and into the office where I added them to my notes on one project, Cat Walk.
This has been a particularly close and painful writing project because it's 99 percent memoir involving the loss of my cat, Snigglefritz, and the past year's family and health struggles. It's been a difficult time, for me at least if not for Val and Jeff. So, it was very difficult to tackle this project with any discipline. Friends have been hounding me about writing another novel and I have just put them off with "well, I've got three started." Okay, how about ENDING one of them?
I've heard the second novel is really hard to get going because of any success with the first that may foreshadow it. I really don't have that excuse, but starting a second novel has still left me uninspired. Until this morning. After tweaking the notes, I realized I had the story and the characters where I wanted them. I have already written several chapters and the purpose of this novel became clearer as I tweaked the notes.
I'm ready now. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I've moved into a story and can write it. Finally. And I have the distance from the circumstances that will clear this story for passage. Time to fly with it. -- 2-22-2013


Mt. Whitney and Beyond

My usual experience with MDs is discouraging, especially when they say an ailment is "all in my head," or "you really shouldn't eat/do/move like that." My year-out visit with Dr. Kyle Swanson, of the Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, proved to be a huge surprise.
:Mt.For this appointment, I was all warmed up by the morning's pilates class and paced and stretched in the room as I awaited his arrival. My left knee bent to the same angle as my right knee, and I tested the pain levels and stiffness, finding both to be much lower than in previous months. I was extremely happy with the results of this surgery and my progress.
So was Dr. Swanson. He was also very encouraging as I asked if I would injure the knee if I kneeled on it or crossed the left leg over my right leg. His dry humor came out when I crossed the right leg over my left knee and said "I'd like to be able to do this with my left leg." He smiled that inscrutable little smile of his and said "I can't even do that." (Please Kyle, I do believe you can. You're young and limber.)
"You really can't injure this knee or the mechanism," he said.
"Yeah, I remember your assistants telling me that it would take a fall from a great height to break it."
"That's true, but if you fell from a great height, you'd break your leg anyway, but not the knee replacement."
Jokingly, I then said, "So I guess I shouldn't climb Mt. Whitney."
He looked me in the eye and said, "Oh, you can climb Mt. Whitney. Do you want to hike Whitney?" He didn't seem the least bit skeptical of my accomplishing this pipe dream of mine.
Then he proceeded to surprise me further. "We climbed it a few years ago, but we did it in one day. Very grueling and not much fun. When you do it, take a few days. Enjoy the hike and the scenery. It's a beautiful trail." Again, his eyes showed no trace of skepticism. "You can do anything you want."
"By the way, have you lost weight? You look great!"
Why does this man have to be an orthopedic surgeon? Why can't he be a general practitioner and bring that "you can do anything" spirit to the medical world?
He asked me to see him again in a year -- two years out from the surgery. Hmmmm... if I start now and walk walk walk as much as I can, build up the stamina and muscles, maybe I CAN hike Mt. Whitney. And if I do it before I see Dr. Kyle Swanson again, won't that be a major coup? --2-13-2013


Kaepernick Scored

Despite the sports world's need to blame Colin Kaepernick for the 49ers' loss of the Super Bowl, he scored big points with me. In fact, it appeared many times throughout the game that he was the only 49er who showed up to play the game.
The big disappointment for me was how he would throw the ball and there would be no one to catch it effectively. Nearly every catch was fumbled or misplayed.
It was good that the stadium's electrical system went down for a half hour. It gave the 49ers a chance to arrive, change into their uniforms, and come onto the field. The players in the first half were obviously stand-ins from some high school. It was truly pitiful to watch. I wondered if they had partied so much the night before that they were still hung-over.
But hey, the pros on the team have a rookie scapegoat now to blame for their loss. Kap should have played a perfect game. He almost did. But for a slip in one long-field throw, the Raven intercepted over the head of a lone 49er available to receive. It will go down in sports history as Kap's failure, an interception. Fie!
It was like that for most of the game. Kap would throw and there'd be no one to receive. Where were they? The Ravens' offense wouldn't have been as effective if the rest of the 49ers were on their game. But they were relying on the Phenom, the Wunderkind. He'll play the whole game for us.
Such is life. When we pin all our hopes on the Star Player, we fail to step up and do what we need to do to support that Player. It's a team effort. All hands on deck.
As for Kaepernick, I think he did a splendid job. Nearly perfect. Wish the rest of his team had done as well. -- 2-4-2013


Kindle Game Magic

My book loving friends, of which there are many, are going to drop me on my head for this Rave, but that's unfortunate. I love my Kindle Fire HD.
Mind you, now, most of these "book lovers" love the hard copy version, no matter how many trees are sacrificed for their tactile pleasure. As they spurn me for my betrayal of the printed page and the independent bookstore, I know many of them sneak into the woods at night to hug trees. I hope this irony is not lost on anybody.
I agree that hard copy books are wonderful. As I've aged, though, arthritis and blurry vision have decreased certain capacities. I find it difficult to hold a book at all, much less view the fine print. Literally holding a book is no longer a pleasure for me as it is with my paper-loving friends. All that weight sagging from my weary wrists takes the joy out of any tactile delights books obviously give other readers.
Enter the Kindle, of any generation. I've had one of the first gens for years and have enjoyed many novels on it because I can increase the font size. Now, my friends are probably writhing and saying "why don't you read large print volumes?" I've already tried that. Think about it, friends. When you increase the font size on a printed book, you increase the size and the helt of the whole book. Wrap it in a hard cover, as most large print versions have, and you have one heavy mother tome. Remember what I said about weary wrists?
This Christmas, Jeff gave me a Kindle Fire HD that has added many new dimensions to my reading, viewing, and gaming needs. As with any computerized gadget I've received, I will never use the vast wealth of applications available to me, but they are THERE! My god, what an embarrassment of riches in one small device. And this isn't even a pocket-sized smart phone. I don't even want to go there.
With sub-zero temperatures and being knocked flat by the flu, January has become a month where Jeff and I huddle side-by-side in our barcaloungers, tablets in hand. His Ipad allows him to download technical manuals with graphics that help him build his job, HAM radio, and other hobby skills. I immediately searched for novels to download, but found so much more. Oh mercy!
I'm currently enjoying The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston, but have already read Cheryl Strayed's wonderful memoir of her trek of the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild. Instead of struggling with 10-point print in a book that battles my attempts to hold it upright, I can read books at 14-point type and can lay the Kindle in my lap, hands free, using either portrait or landscape angles. Sometimes, there is a problem with reflective glare, but that's easily remedied.
I've always wondered how a movie would look on such a tiny screen, so I downloaded Days of Heaven, a film with expansive outdoor shots and minute details as well as a soaring and lyrical score. Not only did I see more on this tiny screen than on the wide-screen TV, but the sound quality enabled me to hear dialogue that was obscured in previous viewings.
Then there are the games. For some reason, settling in with this new gadget has given me courage to explore other than my customary solitaire. Gosh golly, I branched out to Spider Solitaire, a diabolical and fascinating version. I downloaded Tetris and have yet to get hooked on that. Then there's Free Flow, where you have a grid - anywhere from 5 by 5 to 11 by 11 - and you have to connect each colored dot to its mate. Oh, the mind twists just thinking of it. You can't cross paths and must fill all the squares in the grid.
Each game not only has strategical lessons to learn, but also your character and thought processes are put to the test. Do you have the courage, the patience, the temperament to continue a game that seems to be at a stalemate? Free Flow taught me that the obvious trail isn't always the answer and I will fail to solve the puzzle if I don't change the direction of my trails on the grid. The trick is to go beyond the obvious.
Of course, those of you who have cut your teeth on these games will scoff at my glee over these discoveries. A person of a certain age, however, will find these games not only challenge the way things have been done in your little pea brain all these years, you can almost feel new synapses reaching across the empty spaces in your grey matter, bypassing blockages that have stymied you for decades.
So as the winter winds howl around the house at night, Jeff and I huddle in our barcaloungers, entering this new portal that leads us through the looking glass and into worlds of mental growth and stimulation. And I don't have achy wrists after I'm done. -- 1-28-2012


A Minor Miracle

K2 Pilates logo After years, actually a couple of decades, of hobbling around in a twisted body, something wonderful has happened. My left hip finally found its rightful place in my anatomy and appears to want to stay there. Of course, this miracle didn't come to pass without a lot of work.
I won't bore my readers with a blow-by-blow account of the past twenty some-odd years, but will focus on the past two weeks instead. And the remedy came after listening to my daughter, Val, speak of her hip woes and how she found a cure.
Both Val and I have twisted pelvises and sacrums -- or is that pelvisi and sacra? Anyway, between riding and falling off horses, holding a toddler on my hip for a couple of years, and other daily life erodings of the body, the sacrum joint finally tilted one direction, sending the left hip to twisting in another direction. (What did I say about focusing on the past two weeks? Sorry.)
Val chose to avoid chiropractors and went to a physical therapist instead. In conjunction with that, she also worked on building the strength in the pelvic muscles. This worked to pull the hip joint and pelvis back to where it should be and the muscles would be strong enough to hold them there. That's how strength and conditioning workouts work. And Val ought to know about such things. She's got a Master's in kinesiology - a fancy word for how the body and muscles move and behave.
She's wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach since graduation, but with all the body-workers here in the Carson Valley, she decided to work for the Health Dept. Because of her expertise, I tend to listen to her when she offers advise on how to remedy hip problems. When fifteen years of chiropractic didn't completely heal my problems, I listened more carefully to Val and continued my pilates workouts at K2 Pilates in Gardnerville.
Beth Shrum, my favorite pilates guru, works with students who have twisted bodies. I call us her garage projects. With abundant good nature and a deep knowledge of anatomy and pilates theory, Beth guides us through exercises that test and build our strengths while being careful not to push our sore spots too hard. No pain, no gain is NOT Beth's mantra. She is not a drill sargeant, which is why I trust her with my body.
A couple of weeks ago, she did lead us through a particularly challenging class that including a lot of straddling of the reformer. Straddling anything is not something I've been able to do for a long long time. The hip joint just wouldn't open up, but would catch on a couple of little bone spurs. So, this session of pilates was painful indeed. I hobbled back home and iced a strained groin muscle for the remainder of the week. I even had to miss the next pilates class.
Then, that Saturday, the pain moved into the hip joint itself. Oh oh, I thought. This is it. Jeff's going to have to carry me into Dr. Swanson's office for a hip replacement. DRAT!
Despite the pain and my fears, I pushed myself out of the chair and focused my attention on clearing and storing the holiday decorations. I limped and shuffled and bent and lifted this way and that for a few hours until the chore was done. Then I grabbed an ice pack and a glass of honey whiskey and sat back down for the rest of the day.
When I got up again, not only was the pain gone, but the hip joint didn't catch on those pesky little spurs. I walked around more and more over the next few days and discovered that this wasn't just a fluke. The hip had finally responded to all that hard work from pilates class. The muscles had pulled the joint back into its proper place and were holding it there.
It has been over a week from that miraculous Saturday afternoon and the hip is still holding its place. I've tended to chickens, sewn on a quilt, done more pilates classes, gone shopping - including walking around Walmart for an hour, and done a dozen other things around the house. The hip holds. Fireworks are in order.
This brings me hope. It's very strange to be able to walk without that familiar little click and hitch in the hip. Instead, my gait is smooth and sure. The pain is gone from both the knee and the hip. It looks like my senior years are going to be far more active and rambunctious than those middle-ages were. I'd say that is a miracle! -- 1-21-2013


Peanutbutter and Frozen Eggs

January is the time of transition - from the holidays to ... the rest of winter. This year, we revived a tradition acquired from living in the Hobbit House in Truckee: the Peanutbutter Tree. Also, we learned what frigid temperatures do to eggs not hastily gathered from the coop. Guess!
chunky peanutbutter on fir tree limbFor years while living in Truckee, CA, we placed our untrimmed Christmas tree outside the patio door and I slathered hunks of peanutbutter on the limbs to feed hungry, cold birds until spring. In Truckee, that's a long, long time, usually until mid-April or June.
Chunky peanutbutter works best to entice mountain chickadees, Stellars jays and the occasional rufous towhee. Oh, and squirrels. That's where the fun begins in a household full of dogs.
Even though I found the overeager chickadee perching on the end of my knife to be tremendously cute, we were continuously entertained anytime the squirrel, who denned between the snowbank and the back of our house, climbed into the peanutbutter tree for a nosh. Checkers would go crazy. After the squirrel discovered the window glass, it would sit with its back against the glass, gnawing on a wad of peanutbutter while the dog barked ferociously and impotently from the other side.
Some may think we were cruel to the poor dog, but we thought it was terribly funny. Checkers survived the humiliation.
So, this morning, Jeff parked our tree outside the patio doors of Rancho Pequeño and I slathered chunky peanutbutter on some of the limbs. It will take a day or so for the birds to find it. And I'm not sure if doves and quail will acquire a taste for peanutbutter; but we'll find out how many squirrels we have in the neighborhood.
frozen eggMeanwhile, it's been bitterly cold, temperatures lingering during the nights in the single digits. I keep thinking I'll find dead hens when I go down to check on them and gather eggs. We haven't had the heater on this winter, yet a few of them continue to give us about four eggs a day. How's that for wealth!
Anyway, you know what happens when water gets into the sidewalk cracks, then freezes? Same thing happens to eggshells. This morning, however, when I broke the eggs into the dog bowls, one of them was frozen solid. Now, remember, there's usually a big, fat hen with a puffy warm coat of feathers sitting on these eggs. When they freeze like this, that's cold!
basilIn other news, a basil plant that our neighbor, Dan, handed me over the back fence is still thriving. I occasionally pick a few leaves to add to salads or whatever. You can see there are even flowers blossoming on it.
And the tulips we bought at a local drugstore a few weeks ago burst into brilliant blooms which lasted for two weeks. As I cleared away the Christmas decorations, I also plucked the spent blooms from the tulips and pruned the stems. pruned tulipsAdding a few drops of plant food to the container, I'm hoping they will continue their lifespan until spring when I can plant them outside in some fresh soil.
The grower doesn't guarantee they'll bloom again next spring, but tulips are tough. And these have shown a particularly hearty, robust strength. They may even survive my care. So, I'm hoping they'll bloom maybe a year from now or so and then continue each spring as tulips are naturally programmed to do.
As you can see, life at Rancho Pequeño moves on apace. We are well and happy. And we hope the remainder of winter treats you as well. -- 1-14-2013


War on Kids

RANT ALERT! Although I'll attempt to keep it to a low roar.
Last night, Jeff and I watched The War on Kids on the Documentary Channel. If ever you wonder why kids are shooting up the world and behaving in other forms of anarchistic ways, this documentary will enlighten you as well as turn your stomach.
Just ask any baby boomer if they enjoyed going to school or what their memories of school entail. You will probably find among the raves about dances, games, cool teachers, and interesting electives a lot of people who are still afraid of Jocks and Soshes, remember being razzed for their appearance or classroom performance, belittled by teachers or having to endure the attitude of a bored teacher, etc. etc.
The War on Kids talks about how our schools have evolved into demoralizing prison-like institutions that treat children like criminals if suspected of using drugs while doping up kids with Retalin and other toxic pharmaceuticals if they so much as question a teacher's authority or knowledge, or fidget and wriggle at their desks.
A few commentators in the film discussed how kids on Retalin become lifeless, disinterested bodies that almost drool. As soon as summer break arrives and the parents take their kids off Retalin, the kids perk up, laugh, want to play and joke around, and are engaged in life and other people.
The documentary stated that Retalin was developed in Switzerland, but parents there refused to put their kids on it. England has banned the drug from use with children and teenagers. But hey, the United States is always more than willing to support the pharmaceutical industry.
Meanwhile, if you're waiting for the Zombie Apocolypse to occur, wait no more. Just visit your local high school and you'll find hundreds of zombies.
Furthermore, you'll find students looking downward to avoid the constant peering eye of security cameras. And hundreds, maybe thousands of schools around the country already have police officers patrolling the halls. This current talk about putting such security measures in every school is not a new idea. It's already being done.
In one segment of the documentary, a high school was compared to a prison, from the process of checking into the facility to the security cameras to the library and classrooms. Both institutions have all of these things, but after seeing the difference between the prison and the school they chose for this film, I would prefer to be locked up in the prison. By comparison, the prison was a bright, cheery place where people could learn and grow. The high school was depressing and, indeed, horrifying in its oppressive atmosphere.
Years ago when I was a storyteller performing in schools, I saw a range of conditions, especially in the high schools, that made me cringe. Crumbling buildings. Windowless classrooms. Halls so crowded between classes that students can barely pass through them.
And just because a school looks bright and cheery doesn't necessarily mean a child will be safe. After a year at a new elementary school, we entered our daughter into a home school program because a woman with whom I had had a falling out a couple of years before actually threatened to hurt Valerie as she stood alone on the school grounds. I talked to Val's teacher about this and got a very unsatisfactory response from a distracted teacher.
Meanwhile, the two years of home schooling in a quality program helped Valerie regain a love of reading and gave her the freedom and time to engage in any learning activity she wanted. In school, Val's biggest problem that her teacher mentioned was that she never finished her work; but the teacher noticed that Val took time to organize her materials and think about what she wanted to do. By the time she started working on the project, though, it was time to move on to the next activity in the schedule.
At home, Val was allowed to follow her interests and learn at her own pace. It was paradise. From this, she also learned to guide herself, becoming a self-starter and good organizer of projects and activities. This in turn helped her through high school and in college. Jeff and I never had to ask her if she had finished her homework. She always did it herself. Home schooling provided the opportunities to become self-disciplined.
Public school began over a hundred years ago as a way to homogenize our society of immigrants into Americans. We still have immigrants, but our school system seems to have forgotten, or never learned, how to teach children the skills of learning. School has become a process of pouring a wide variety of facts, that someone high up has decided is important somehow, into a child's brain and having it remain there long enough to pass a test.
Children are naturally curious and have dreams and ideas they want and need to try out in order to grow properly. Our schools and indeed our society would be better served by programs that would allow children to explore their interests with the guidance of knowledgeable people who enjoy passing on their knowledge and experience to youngsters.
If schools were about teaching children how to learn and then letting them do it, we would have little need for drugs - illegal or pharmaceutical. No child would become so frustrated that they'd want to blow away their teachers and fellow students. And special ed teachers would not have to wrangle students with non-existent learning disabilities because they didn't learn to read or do math according to the schedule.
Learning doesn't happen on schedule nor does it happen with all things being equally absorbed by all people. We're not robots. And we're not zombies. Let's not use our schools to create such beings. -- 1-9-2013