Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Holiday Tale

Is it just me or has this holiday season been really quiet?  Dare I say subdued?

And yet, I had a really wonderful time this year.  Maybe the economy helped people remember what's really important.  Or maybe it's always like this, or I'm seeing things from a skewed perspective.  It's not like that would be a shocker ...

I do miss our little stray dog, who we named Chase.  Turned out her name is Decker, and she lives up the road.  We experienced the reverse of what we went through when Brian went missing.  After having Chase/Decker in our lives for a month, the owner found her.  After bonding with us, she seemed confused and wasn't really ready to go with her owner, but then he triggered her with a familiar phrase.  "Come on, let's go for a ride in the truck!"

And like that, she was gone.

I'm hugely comforted by the fact that she was part of a family with kids, and that those kids got a fantastic gift--a reunion after most of their hope had fled of ever seeing their dog again.  I remember how I cried sometimes weeks after Brian went missing, and how much I laughed, and cried again but this time with joy, when we got him back.  When I come home and Chase isn't there, I'm so grateful for my own dogs being home that I linger with them, letting them know how much I love them, and how awesome they are.  We have great dogs.  We really, really didn't need another one.

So, that's it, I guess.  A winter story with a magical ending and a little hint of sadness.  It's quiet here, and subdued, but good.  The days are finally getting longer, and before I'm ready for it, spring will be here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Food as Bonding

There's something awesome about making cookies with family.  It's a chemistry lesson, experimentation, an exercise in making-due, and playtime all wrapped together ... but there's so much more to it than even that.  It's as if we're participating in an old family tradition, even though we do it very, very seldom.  We're linked by sticky ingredients all over our hands and patches of flour on our noses where we've scratched.  

There's something deeply bonding about sharing food, and even more bonding by making food together.  For all I know it may be written into our DNA, helping us love to be together since alone most of us would die.  Many others have remarked on how families and friends become closer through cooking.  I'm just another voice among many saying oh heck yeah, it means so much more than working so that you can stuff your face.

I've been looking forward to making cookies for weeks, and it's everything I could have asked for and more.

Plus we get to eat our creations.  Yum.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stuff

 Just a quickie before work ...

We have snow again.  I'm not deterred from driving.  Work isn't that far away, and now it appears to be above freezing and raining.  It's very likely that about 200 yards down from our place there isn't any snow at all.

Sure was pretty to wake up to, though.

Made a little more progress on the porch yesterday.  Sunshine, freezing winds ... sure, why not?  The boy actually suggested it.  I didn't want to, but I recognized the wisdom in seizing the non-rainy day.  So we got about another 16 square feet or so done on that.  Not much, but the way we have to put it together--that's about 3 hours of work.  

I planted (just in time, it turns out) some daylillies donated by my mom for the great multi-acre garden cause.  As the average temperature continues to drop, the danger that the extremely hardy roots might succumb to freezing damage rose.  They're safe and snug in the earth now.  Also joining them: crocosmia and bluebells.  

I'm really looking forward to the show next year, assuming that I get all the blackberries beaten back in time.

And our stray foundling, Chase, is slowly learning the house rules.  No news yet as far as whether we're going to keep this beautiful, young female herding dog who weighs in at a mere 28 pounds.  We have a few days to decide what to do.

Three more days until Yule!  Weee!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Attack of the Poop

We have nicknames for almost all of our animals. Veronica also answers to 'Poop!' One of these days I'll have to have the boy video one of my exchanges with Veronica, which is probably only entertaining to me. It goes along the lines of:
"Poop!"
"Meow?"
"Poop!"
"Mrrow!"
"Poop!"
"Mmruw?"
"Poop!"
"Mow?"
On and on pretty endlessly. I only really want to document it in case anyone tries to attribute any sort of decorum or fussy propriety to me. I'm a kites-with-pictures-of-my-goats-with-wings-on-them, chocolate-cake-smeared-on-one-cheek kind of gal.
Just sayin'.
Not that it's ever likely to be an issue.
But I'll be watching, so you better not do anything too toward in my name out there.

Veronica originally got the nickname 'Poop' because I thought her coloration is reminiscent of bird poop. I'm also a fan of Winnie the Pooh, and therefore I'm perfectly happy with silly, somewhat inappropriate cutesy names for things. I know, I know, blame the innocent Pooh for my weirdness--how gauche. But there you have it.

Anyway, the Poop is spoiled rotten. She gets away with all kinds of stuff.

video
Brian is so sweet and patient.
Plus, he's a total attention hog, so as long as he's getting his pets, he doesn't care.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Yay Beach Trip

We went to the coast yesterday.  It's been a long time--too long.  I've missed the salt-damp air that soothed my skin (local desert winds have sucked the moisture out of everything.)  Seeing the gentle curvature of the earth from a high clifftop as I scan the blue horizon in a sweeping glance at an ocean view so broad you can't see from one edge to the other all at once.  Marveling at the power of a sea lion as he leapt from the water onto a rock six feet out of the water.  Creamy clam chowder with little puddles of butter swimming on top and home-baked bread.  The thrill of not-quite-surprise as a wave surges into a narrow channel and then drills water up through a spout hole where it shatters into a glassy rainbow.  Dancing on ice cold sand and barnacle rocks in tender feet while the waves tickle up the shoreline pushing foam over my toes.

My DH and I fantasized about making a life at the coast.  Spending the day there made me feel young again as I relived a thousand memories, and at the same time I saw so many things through new eyes as our guest saw the ocean up close for the first time in his life--recanting old rules and warning about the dangers of our wild coast reminded me that I've learned a thing or two over the years about the melding place of land and sea.

I miss sailing too.  

Spending a day at the coast is always wonderful.  Spending it with family and friends--yeah.  It was a really good day.

Yay Beach Trip

We went to the coast yesterday.  It's been a long time--too long.  I've missed the salt-damp air that soothed my skin (local desert winds have sucked the moisture out of everything.)  Seeing the gentle curvature of the earth from a high clifftop as I scan the blue horizon in a sweeping glance at an ocean view so broad you can't see from one edge to the other all at once.  Marveling at the power of a sea lion as he leapt from the water onto a rock six feet out of the water.  Creamy clam chowder with little puddles of butter swimming on top and home-baked bread.  The thrill of not-quite-surprise as a wave surges into a narrow channel and then drills water up through a spout hole where it shatters into a glassy rainbow.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Muddle in the Middle

I didn't make either of my Nano goals this year, but I had a great time, and I've reached the muddle in the middle of a new novel with all new characters.  It's a lot of fun.

The muddle in the middle reminds me a lot of the middle game in chess.  Surviving the middle game is a huge hurdle when you're learning to play chess.  Thriving in the middle game separates the accidental winners and losers from chess masters, who exploit the chaos as much as possible.

I think writing through the muddle in the middle is really similar.  At some point surviving it (rather than taking weird plot turns or losing characterization/plot in a weak and complicated mangle of words) becomes thriving becomes mastering that muddle and turning it to your advantage.  I don't feel like I'm really thriving there yet, but this time around I feel like I can see more clearly than I ever have before.  It still feels complicated, but my characters and the plot haven't gotten lost.

Nothing to do but plunge onward and see what happens next!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Eeeee!

I don't know if I'm going to make my Nano goal this year!  Eeeee!

No days off, house guest arriving tomorrow at 1pm ...

It's not looking good.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Latest farm pics



The goats are all fattened up and ready for a long winter.  They put on more wool and more fat than other years.  I think they know something we don't ...










We had just a couple of inches of snow, much of which got melted by rain.  Today I got to enjoy one of my favorite sorts of days:  patches of sunlight and clouds, no wind, golden light on snow, blue sky shining through icicles, and occasional bouts of snow coming from silver and white puffballs floating overhead.









The chickens spent most of their day sunning themselves by the house.  When a particularly dark cloud went overhead, the roosters all crowed, and then crowed again when the sun came back.  They worked great as an alarm so I knew when it was time to head out and take a little walk around the garden.

They got frozen grapes for a treat.  I hadn't meant to freeze them--I just missed a few bunches, and since half the bright yellow leaves have now fallen off the grapes (the leaves are falling off the beech tree like rain now that we've had some serious cold) I discovered them.

Not pictured:  Brian and Finn chasing each other around the yard in the snow.  Beautiful white fluffy dogs enjoying the perfect day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yay Day

I've had to modify my writing goal this month to be more in keeping with the traditional Nanowrimo word count rather than my 100,000 word goal--and I think I'll be lucky to make it.  I should have been well over 25,000 words by now, and I'm not quite there yet.  Hopefully a couple of days of dedicated writing will fix that.

In legal news, which I haven't been able to talk about, a lawsuit has settled out of court.  It's a huge weight off of my shoulders.  I don't think it was particularly fair, but I'll settle for no-longer-stressful (and we're fine--this didn't affect anything except my moral sensibilities.)

So the two days I'd asked off so that I could be dragged kicking and screaming to court are now available for writing and preparing for our house guest.  

The kids are doing really well, we're doing well (we're going to survive to the end of the year, yay!) and life is pretty good.  I'll definitely be counting a lot of blessings on Yule.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

First Snow

It's a beautiful evening with big, fat, sloppy snowflakes falling outside.  It's a hot chocolate with a giant marshmallow nuked on top kind of night, a writing night, a reading night.  It's a night for sitting in the living room with the lights turned out, watching the deck light reflect off of frosted leaves and buried deck spars.  

Happy first snow, everyone!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Orycon 32

Orycon 32-- had a wonderful time. The Endeavor Award party was packed into a pretty small room, but we managed to all squeeze in. I met some wonderful people, including a mask artist. We got into a great conversation about masks, which led to some new ideas for Masks .... I had to go to the dealer's room and not buy beautiful, wearable art that I can't afford.

Sharyn November, btw, is funny. Great interview by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Sharyn talked about her history in poetry, as a member of rock bands, and how she developed her line of books. The way she works with her authors--on a very personal and yet profession level, sharing a love of the art and the story on the page while working hard to reach the reader--really heartened me. I hope the publishing world is full of people like her. And yet, of course, they can't be. I'm sure there are tons of excellent editors, but clearly, Sharyn November is one of a kind.

Best of all, I had great talks about writing with Mary Rosenblum and Sara Mueller that may push my writing to the next level, after a long plateau.  Wish me luck!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing, dipped in chocolate

November is such a mess, it's a wonder I'm getting any writing done at all. But I keep on keeping on, and I think the reason has changed just a wee bit. Normally I write because I love writing. Now, writing is actually helping with my mental health.

My DH is being awesome on that front too. He's helping me focus on the right stuff instead of worrying in endless, useless circles. We're still making progress on the porch, and my office, and the house is starting to look spiffy. It's all good, though I have so much pressure from so many fronts--legal, work, social/volunteer, etc.--I'm starting to get stress symptoms. Bad dreams. Cranky tummy. Weird aches and pains.

Some of the stress will go away with Thanksgiving. The time pressure--too much to do, too little time--is not going to let up until December at the very earliest, and probably not until the bitter, cold end of December. So I have to identify and assess down time--what truly qualifies as down time, and what is the highest quality down time. For example, watching good movies really relaxes me, but that feeling doesn't last as long as when I garden.

Writing is turning out to be really high quality down time with long-reaching positive benefits. When I was writing full time, writing was work time. Really fun work time, but I had to organize stretching, snack breaks, running errands, doing housework, etc. around my BICFOK (Butt in Chair Fingers on Keyboard.) And I had to organize computer time around computer time--differentiating offline actual words on page vs. research, networking, communication, marketing, all that good stuff.

Now writing is a retreat. After a long stretch of writing, I have the energy to tackle other stuff. It's actually a subtle difference, because I always enter and then emerge from other worlds when I'm doing the novel thang. That stays the same. I guess it's one of those absence makes the heart grow fonder things. I don't take writing time for granted, therefore it feels more like a treat to be able to write. And I'm happy after I have my treat. It's as if writing suddenly got dipped in chocolate. It may also have possibly been dipped in nuts, but so far my flow still feels okay. I just hope it reads okay.

I'm looking forward to lots more treats tomorrow. I have a rare day off. Wee!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Long Life

The boy is sad, so I brought home comfort food:  fried chicken.  I know, we're not doing it right because in order to be complete it should come with warm buns, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy.  But basically we're a bunch of carnivores around here, so we have the chicken and the rest is just extraneous.

A conversation between a mother and her teenage son at the register at work today:

The boy said,  "I know exactly what I want for my 101st birthday."
Mother: "If I'm alive, I'll get it for you."
He looked startled at the thought she might not be around.
"It's not out of the question," I offered.
The mother smiled at that.  "I suppose not."
"I plan to live to be over three hundred," the boy said.
"People don't live that long," she said.
I had to wonder, though.  Medicine is advancing at a rapid pace, though to us old people and to people with serious or terminal illnesses, it's not moving fast enough.  This kid is only in his mid-teens.

What will we discover in ten years?  Twenty?

What will our life expectancies be in a hundred years?

Dream on, boys.  The world is always changing.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

November

It's Nanowrimo time again.  The whole month of November I'll be working on not one, but two novels.  Normally Nanowrimo is NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth, but I'm stupid so I'll be working on two, with a goal of 100,000 words by the end of the month.

Is there any reason to suppose I can pull this off?  Not really.  I've done high word count months before, but I've also fallen on my face, and this year I've got a full time job.

Perfect time to up the stakes, says I.

What happens if I lose?  I hang my head in writerly shame.  And if I win?  I get a nice little certificate.  I've got a few of them laying around, and I'm rather proud of them.

The one thing I won't promise to do is to work equally on both books.  Whichever is working for me better on a given day, that's the one I'll be writing on.  Will I be able to keep them isolated in my head?  Will the voices stay true to each other?  Will Lonni ever be able to live in the rapture of true love?  I have no idea.  I think I'll be okay, though.  I've done multiple projects before.  And if it starts to not work, I'll just work on one book.

Hopefully that'll be my 'main squeeze'--the book I've got listed as my novel on my Nanowrimo profile.

If you too would like to try to write 50,000 words in a month (a pretty short novel) you're very welcome to join me.  I'm kzmiller.  Let's buddy up and do this.  Why?  Well I know why I do it.  'Cause I'm a writer.

You're probably crazy to want to.  Me--it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  

No, really.

It's what I do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leaves

I've been working on Masks again.  I have this giddy feeling that comes from visiting favorite places combined with new explorations.

It's a good thing that there is giddiness because I've received a ton of rejections this past week.  Editors must be reacting to the change of seasons and are clearing out all the leaves from their yards.

Speaking of which, most of our trees have all their leaves and only a few have started to turn.  That means I have to wait before I fertilize.  This is, however, oddly, a great time to do a bit of shaping and pruning if you have plants you need to reduce.  They'll go to sleep remembering that they're a smaller plant, and won't go as crazy in spring trying to regain the size you want to bring them down to.  Once the leaves turn and fall, though, the tree is essentially dormant and won't remember a thing except that it used to be X number of feet tall and wide and oh noes!  Must grow all the missing bits back!

Plants are kewl and weird.  Writing is kewl and weird.  Rejections ... best thing for me to do is to sweep them into a pile and send out the manuscripts again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Locally a woman who shot her husband four times is trying to use a defense that she was essentially in a disassociated state when she learned that he was having an affair.  Additionally, she wants to plead that she has a disorder that basically makes her react in an exaggerated fashion in order to gain attention.

I'm really uncomfortable with this and similar defenses.  What if someone is a sociopath--other people basically aren't real and the only thrill this person feels is when they hurt or kill others or break the rules by stealing millions, etc.  Maybe they're considered insane.  Does that excuse them from their crimes?  What if they don't know what they're doing?  Does that mean that they should go free?  What then does such a person have to do in order to be removed from society so that they don't commit more crimes?  

This all just makes me think about our justice system.  I don't think any system is perfect.  I think there are issues no matter what you do.  I am concerned about the fact that in our society, violent predators thrive (or seem to.)  Is it because violent predators have always thrived, is my perception skewed, or is it because in our relatively safe society, we've intellectualized crime and justice so much that we haven't kept up with dealing with the reality of it?  In the process of being fair, have we forgotten the ideal of protecting people from crime?

I have no answers, only more and more questions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Changes

I've been crazy busy at work, and the rains they are a-comin'.

Woke to the sound of rain this morning.  Been a long time since that's happened.  Our torn-apart porch is just a painted skeleton in pieces, waiting for a carpenter/paleontologist to put it together somehow with parts missing and all.  Poor old Dakota is having trouble getting back in the house after we let her out.  Her hips twinge when she tries to duck under the framework and it's a scrabble to make it up the slanted cement steps that collapsed into rat tunnels ages ago.  Those steps are actually pretty neat-o, but I bet the insurance company wouldn't like it if we just used them and gave up on the whole porch project thingy.  So something has to happen.

I vote for magical things happening in the middle of the night and we wake up to it all done perfectly with red and white intermingled roses growing all over a trellis on it.

The chickens are doing really well.  The Wyandottes will go on sale soon, hopefully to go to good homes though I wouldn't be offended if someone just wanted a really nice (though work-intensive) holiday dinner.  They're neat birds, but we've got two roosters too many and they're starting to stress each other out.

So, not much going on, and yet lots going on.  It's been a full week, and I'm looking for a day off so that I can make some headway on the home front.  And writing?  All I can say is, thank goodness for one hour lunches.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Students Learn, Birds fly, and Writers Write

I helped (just a wee bit) with the girl's senior project.  She had to (with the help of her mentor) learn how to collect, catalogue, and preserve a plant collection.  I hadn't done anything like this since 2002-2003.  I'd forgotten how much fun it was.  

I remember many days just like today, soaked from the knees down under the not-really-adequate shelter of a red and white golf umbrella (the same one I used today, in fact) while my horticulture instructor led us through various gardens and rattled off common and latin names. I used a waterproof notebook and wrote in pencil.  I collected bags and bags of plants, which I then had to sort, re-identify, and press within a few hours or they'd be too wilted to be useful.  Sometimes the specimens kept okay overnight in the refrigerator.  I still have books and books of pressed plants.  Some are in better condition than others.  Anyway, although the girl is a bit overwhelmed, she seems to be learning, and having fun too.

This morning I let the chickens out into pouring rain.  They make different noises during different conditions that sometimes imply language to me.  "Cluck cluck, what weather we're having today!  A little rain is just fine, but this is going a bit far, don't you think?"

I gave them a handful of black oil sunflower seeds, their favorite, to help stave off the morning damp (soaking) and chill.  It definitely feels like autumn, with warm, beautiful days and the gentle storms.  Much as I love summer, autumn is special too, and I'm happy with my orange pumpkins and ripening corn.  The chickens don't seem to mind either.  They've been raiding the tomatoes.  So much for a chance at getting some ripe ones here at the end ... but it's just so much fun watching them disassemble fruit and raid the compost pile for bugs that I wouldn't dream of keeping them away.

Not that I could.  They can really fly now.  Trim their wings?  I could, but if I didn't want creatures flying around here, I wouldn't have gotten birds in the first place.  Besides, we still have rats, and this way my chicks-all-grown-up will be a little safer.

I hope everyone local is enjoying a cozy, rainy day.  I'll be programming, and writing.  Tomorrow it's back to the day job, so I'm hoping to really make this day count.

Friday, October 08, 2010

News of the blue&white, black&white, and green&white

The boy painted (nearly) the entire house!!

In other news, a story of mine got held-onto (again, still, or something like that) for final selection for a magazine.  It makes me happy.  I should know in a couple of months if the story will be in or out.

In the garden:

Autumn has arrived on the hill, announced not so much by leaf-fall, colors, or even the scent in the wind but by powdery mildew.  To fight this dastardly disease, you can spray, prune, or both.  (I recommend both, but prune at minimum.)  Removing diseased leaves not only helps slow the spread of the disease, but allows more airflow into the plant.  Powdery mildew likes moist, warm conditions to grow.  Pruning takes away some of the moisture.  Most people notice it on their squashes first, but keep an eye on those grapes.  Now is a fine time to reduce your grape canopy--before problems set in--to help protect your ripening grapes from all kinds of fungal problems.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ex-Siding Developments

Our siding has some rotten places.

I discovered this when I prepped to paint.  I went up with caulking, started injecting ... and found that a few hand-sized places were essentially painted veneer with sponge-like wood underneath.  I stopped caulking immediately, realizing that I was basically trying to glue together sawdust under a thin coat of wood held together with paint.

After a lot of tapping and testing, we've found all the bad spots, so we'll replace the siding in those areas and paint them while we still have dry weather.  I'm disappointed that we won't have the painting done in time to beat the incoming wet weather, but that's okay.  Another dry spell will come along.  

Eventually.

I hope.

That's both dry and above freezing.

The good news is the vast majority of our siding is surprisingly sound.  Yay!  I'm looking forward to how the house will look when it's all done, and I'll sleep a little easier knowing that we'll be in good shape to weather the next long stretch of years.  All in all, the house really is getting into really good shape.  When I look back at how it was, both home and property, and how it is now, I'm amazed.  

It's hard to realize how far we've come when I discover a problem like this, until I start to think about how major some of our problems were (like my office flooding) compared to what they are now (a little bit of rot that will only take a few hours to deal with.)

I think we're going to be more than okay.  I think this house is turning out great.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Painting ... the House

Normally when I say I'm painting, I mean on canvas or watercolor paper.  This time it's the exterior of our house.

But you know, the finesse-stuff is kinda all the same.  Sure, I'm not going to put a mural on the side of the house or anything (though I'm tempted to put up the occasional 1/4" ladybug here and there like little physical Easter eggs) but paying attention to brush stroke and line is still the same.  The main thing that's different is structure.  I don't have to worry too much about the canvas/paper/ground on a painting.  Prepping surfaces like that for the main event is really pretty easy.  On the house, we have to wash, and scrape off flaking paint, and fill in those little holes that bugs occasionally make in siding.  

It's looking really nice.  I like it, anyway.  And it feels like a familiar task, even though I've never done it.  Sure, I've done the inside walls, but never the outside except for some trim touching-up I did at our prior home.  I'm comfortable with this work, like I've done it a lot.

By the end, I will have done it a lot, I guess.  It's a big house.  Maybe when I'm done, we'll have a grand re-opening or something.  Toast the accomplishment.  Speaking of which, here's a big thank you to my son, who has done most of the work this time.  Did I just say most? you ask.  Yep.  I've had to work, and he's taken up the brush and roller in my place.  Thanks, kiddo.  I very literally couldn't have done this without you, especially with the rainy season looming.

Yay boy, yay painting, yay new-looking house.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Courtesy, Part 2

Some people, when they return stuff, unintentionally give me a clear picture of their house.  Two cases in point recently--two sets of sweats covered in dog and cat hair, and the sweatpants that had been through the wash were hairier than the rest.  The green had a kind of roan or frosted look.  The other case were camo-hunting pants coated in dog hair, with less near the waist band and a ton around the cuffs.  In the camo-pants situation, I had a striking image of the person trying the pants on one leg at a time on avocado carpet with a good quarter inch thick of dog hair felted into the surface.  Am I psychic?  You decide. 

Anyway, when you need to return clothes that don't fit, bear in mind:

If the merchant can't resell them because they've been washed or covered in dog/cat hair or sweated out/smell like perfume/smell like you've been in a cigar bar all night, you're basically asking them to eat the cost of the clothes because you made a mistake.  They usually won't get a credit from the manufacturer.  If the clothes are in good enough condition to hang back on the shelf, though, the merchant will be happy to accommodate you.

In marginal economic times, it doesn't take long before merchants have to decide whether to accommodate errors in size-choice (which we all make, and is a courtesy on their part) or to decide whether to keep their doors open.  Returns are built into business plans, but it's not hard to see how increased returns, or just normal rates of return when the business is struggling due to greatly decreased sales, could kill a store that managed to survive up until this point.

I do understand that lots of people don't really care if the little clothing boutique dies or their local drug store closes ... but they better not complain that the only places still open are Fred Meyer and Walmart.  And on the other side of the table--the best way to ensure you'll be able to return clothes that don't work for you is to take good care of them.  More and more businesses are refusing to take back stuff that's been misused.  They simply can't afford to take the hit anymore.

The exceptions, of course, are obvious manufacturing defects.  The manufacturers make good on those.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Courtesy

Courtesy is ...

When a toilet seat you've purchased two weeks ago breaks when you sit on it, it's polite to clean it before you return it to the point of purchase.

At least wipe off the drippy stuff and the little curly hair.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mother, Son

I'm sicker today, with a long work week ahead.  Wish me luck.  The good news is that the rest of the fam is getting better.

The boy was particularly sick last night.  I stayed up, watching while he slept.  I haven't been that worried about him, or felt the need to do that, since he was about half his current size.  I expect as he goes out into the dangerous world, I'll worry about him even more.  A rational part of me understands that any sense of safety and security I feel or feel that he has while he's in our house is false security.  Still, it's a peaceful feeling, and one I'm sure I'll miss when he leaves home.

At the same time I'm excited to see what he does with his life when he's completely on his own.  This is the one area that I think he worries more than me--I think he fears he'll flounder.

I think he'll be brilliant.  Not immediately.  Even the brightest, most motivated of us had to start with uncertainty, with little or no experience, with little or no confidence.  I know I judged my own first steps into the 'real world' really harshly, comparing myself endlessly to what my parents had achieved during the various stages of their lives.  Even the way they started out, with little or nothing, left me in awe, because they escaped Communism and survived in a nation without a good grasp of English, never mind employment qualifications.

The boy has to jump some hurdles I never had to face at his age.  I think, if anything, that'll make him a better, stronger person than me in the long run.  And that's a great thing.  My DH and I had always hoped that our kids would be stronger, faster, smarter, and more adaptable than we are.  I don't think a person like that can be patched together with genetics and upbringing (though those things help.)  I think a person has to make themselves, to become the adults that they hope to be.

That's all fine and good, but last night, watching his quick, shallow breaths as he slept uneasily with a hard fever, I wanted to protect, and help, and shelter him.  That won't ever go away.  He'll always be my son.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Bright Side

I'm at the library doing writing research-y kind of stuff. Coming down with a cold. Feeling disheartened about the whole marketing thing. But I love to write. I will always love to write.

I finished writing a short story yesterday and it felt great. I was all smiles all over the house, practically farting happy faces that floated around like soap bubbles.

It's a beautiful day, and I have time to write this evening. Getting snurky and my throat hurts? So what. Marketing is hard? Tough. I can make myself some tea, settle on the bed and immerse myself in story.

I have a very good life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Business of Work

The house has been needing an overhaul for a long time, and we've finally been able to put some serious work into it.  The boy is prepping my office for reconstruction. I've been refinishing some of our badly-neglected woodwork like the window seat and windowsills.  The girl and my DH are keeping the rest of the chores up while this happens.

I've been trying to introduce the boy to the concept of an eight hour work day.  He hasn't gotten it yet.  Fortunately, I've got three days off in a row next week, so I'll be able to supervise more realistically--letting him know when his breaks and lunch fit in, helping him stay on task without needing a step-by-step breakdown, helping him learn how to be self-directive and learning to pay attention to details.  He's already getting better.  Areas I've asked him to clean out have needed only a little touch-up.  Only one spot really needed serious work after he'd cleaned it, but that was only because he didn't listen to instructions (using chemicals instead of clean water to prep an area for refinishing, so I had to wash it again.)

He's growing up fast, and I think he'll start to realize his own progress and grow even faster when he learns how to learn.  

This is a really rewarding time to be a parent.  I'd like to take pride in creating a functional human being, but I can't take credit for very much except some rudimentary teaching, but even that ... in so many ways, he's created himself.  I just gave him a few materials, and away he went.  
If only the house could clean itself over time ... hmm.  That gives me a story idea.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Squash Heaven

I made a yummy soup today because I had a bunch of squash of reasonable size in my garden.  Finally!
Here's the recipe.  Warning--these are Kami-style instructions.  I don't usually measure very much.  

Kami's Squash & Potato Soup

4-6 average summer squash
4 medium potatoes
3 tbsp butter
about 3 tbsp flour
water
2 cups milk (at least 1 percent though I guess it might turn out okay with skim--2 percent or whole will make a richer soup)
a dollop (a tsp or tbsp) of olive oil (optional)
dill, salt, pepper and garlic to taste
optional: 1-2 dashes each cumin, ground allspice, ginger
optional: grated cheddar cheese, bacon bits and/or sour cream (or yogurt) for garnish

In a medium or large sauce pot, roughly cut up the squash and potatoes, add water until they're just barely covered.  (Make sure you have plenty of room to add the milk/roux later--if you don't, use a larger sauce pot.)  Bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Add olive oil if you want, salt and pepper.  Simmer until potatoes are soft.  (Do not drain the water!  It's part of the soup.)  

In a small sauce pot (must hold at least 2 cups liquid comfortably!) melt the butter.  Add flour in small amounts until there's a somewhat crumbly texture when stirred, but it settles into a molten puddle after a moment.  If you add too much flour, add a small amount of butter, but don't stress about the texture too much--it's not terribly important.  Cook over low heat until the flour begins to brown.  (For more detailed instructions, look up roux in cookbooks.)  The scent should be rich, like buttery biscuits.  Remove from heat.  While stirring, add the milk, and then return to heat and turn up to medium.  If there are large lumps, use a whisk to break them up.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring constantly (as you would making pudding on the stove--avoid letting a bunch thicken at the bottom because it'll start to brown and then burn.)  The milk/roux mix should reach peak thickness when it starts to bubble.  

Add the thickened milk/roux to the water/squash and potatoes and stir.  Since both are hot, the soup should remain at or quickly return to a simmer.  Add dill, garlic, and more salt and pepper.  You may use the optional seasonings instead, or in addition to the dill and garlic.  Taste.  The soup may require more salt than you anticipate because of the unseasoned roux, but don't give in to temptation and add a whole bunch of salt at once.  Come into the flavor a pinch or two at a time, and be sure to cleanse your palate--that much tasting can wear your tongue out and you can make this much too salty on accident.  (One fix for salty soup is to add more potatoes --it's best to let the soup cool on the side, boil the extra potatoes until they're soft, drain, and then add them in.)

Garnish with cheese and/or bacon bits and/or sour cream and/or yogurt.  

Other fine touches/variations:  
You can brown some onion, then add the potatoes and summer squash to the hot pan and let them mingle for a few minutes before adding the water.  This works nicely with celery as well, and celery/onion combo.
Paprika, sour cream and fresh chives make a very dressy garnish.
You can substitute the potatoes with cauliflower for a really nice change of texture and taste.
Celery salt works nicely in this soup too.
Fattening addition--substitute some of the milk with a little heavy cream.

Note:  The roux can take a while to make.  By the time it's done, the potatoes and squash should start to fall apart nicely, leaving only small chunks by the time you combine them with the roux/milk.  I think the chunks are wonderful, but if you want, you could easily turn this into a smooth puree.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Long days, and darkness comes sooner


We had a big day today, the boy, the girl and I.  At the end it doesn't seem like that much, but we're all pooped.  We barely got through it all--as the season turns the days grow noticeably shorter.  It already smells like autumn.

We got a shovel, bought three automotive belts on two trips (and returned two,) got a toilet part, and a shovel.

We installed the correct belt (finally) on the rototiller so that I could prep for leeks and kohlrabi (I know, I know, I'm about a month late.)  I managed to condition soil in a 20'x20' plot, which is a nice start, before it got too dark to work.  
I got the part into the toilet so that we'll have no more ghost flushes several times an hour.  Ah, silence.
And the boy and I cut down a not-insubstantial tree, both to thin our woods (for health, the tree was sick) and for firewood.  I'll mark more trees for thinning/firewood sometime in the next few days, with strict instructions not to cut them down w/o my supervision (with cell phone in hand in case there's an accident.)  One that I'm hesitating on has dead tips of branches all over it and dropped all around it on the ground, but it appears to be recovering.  It's a very nice-sized tree, so I would hate to lose it, but if in infects the others, well, I'll be a lot more sad.  I'll try to discover what ails it, but these things are notoriously tough to do.

Tomorrow will be another long day of hard labor, and then in the evening, writing!  But now, to bed, and my half-hour of reading.  My latest book:  How Not to Write a Novel.  I borrowed it from the library, and I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Your Police Force and You

I had an interesting discussion with a coworker of mine yesterday that got me thinking.

I believe that high school children should be taught:

About arrest and powers of arrest--not just mentioned, but they should be tested on it.
About rights and responsibilities while communicating with police officers--everything from a meeting them on the street to arrest.  Not just Miranda rights stuff, but practical advice and steps they can take to avoid injury and legal issues.
About police work, especially things like duty-to-act, use of force, and securing an area that may not be intuitively obvious, and will affect what will happen to you when police are on the scene.
And especially about personal safety when in a situation where there are police officers called to the scene.

I don't care about creating obedient little citizens who do everything a police officer says.  I don't think anyone wants that.  But I do care about people understanding enough about what police work is about to handle themselves--not just from the rights/responsibility standpoint, but safety.  I don't expect the classes to teach how to be safe in every situation where a uniform appears, but a few added percentage points on the grand scale of survivability would be nice.  After all, we're not perfectly safe from predatory humans, or car accidents--but self-defense awareness and defensive driving will give you an edge.

This is in response to an article about a man who was shot by police.  Regardless of whether this is deemed a 'good shoot' or not or whether he believed the officer was a bad guy disguised as a policeman or not ... the man is dead.

 I want my kids, and all kids, to have all the information they need to make an informed choice.  Maybe they will make the same choices, and be at risk from the people sworn to protect them, even die because of bad policing or because a bad guy impersonated a police officer.  But I want them to have choices--real choices, options, knowledge, and an understanding of the consequences of the choices they make.  I don't want them to die at the hands of a good police officer simply because they didn't understand how policing works, or chose to believe in a fantasy where all cops are bad ...

Which reminds me of an aside.  There are people who seem to believe that they have unlimited rights on their own property, including using a gun to warn off a police officer who is trespassing on their property.  (I'm not saying that this is what happened, though many commentators seem convinced that the pastor had every right to carry and even draw a gun on a police officer because he was on his property.)  Of course we don't have unlimited rights on our own property.  Child abuse, spousal abuse, kidnapping, rape, torture ...   We don't have the right to do anything we want in our own homes, and police have to be able to deal with investigating disturbances somehow while infringing on as few rights as possible.  That interplay is not as simple as some people would want you to believe.  They may not understand, or not want to understand why situations like this aren't easy to judge, even if we knew exactly what happened.  I don't believe anyone, including the officer involved, knows (and no one may ever know) what went wrong.  

Anyway, it's not too hard to understand why education is so crucial.  When someone collapses in cardiac arrest, are you more likely to be able to perform CPR when you've already learned how to do it, or, not knowing CPR, will you be able to do it while the 911 dispatcher tries to explain it to you on speakerphone?  It's not rocket science, but ...

When you're scared or angry, you usually can't choose, or learn, or even think very well.  You react.  The best thing to do is to have your choices already made--to know in advance what to do.  Hopefully, when the adrenaline is flowing, and all you can hear is the rushing in your ears, you'll remember your class lessons.

When you're pulled over for a traffic stop, do you:
A. Get your driver's license and registration out.
B. Get out of the car and approach the officer.
C. Get out your gun or other weapons so that they're in plain sight.  Be sure to wave them around so the officer sees them, and refuse to cooperate until you see an official badge and picture ID.
D. All of the above ...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Raining

It's raining.  I love scent of rain after a long dry spell.  I wonder if all my incipient cantaloupes will split, but I won't really mind if they do because it's raining plip plop patter patter rain pooling and splashing and glancing off of leaves crisped around the edges even though I watered at least once a week because it's been so dry.

When it rains after a long dry spell I sleep a special kind of deep sleep, different though not better or worse than napping on a hot day.  It's a cool, slippery kind of sleep, mysterious and full of graceful omens.  Sometimes it's a little scary, but somehow peaceful at the same time, how the falling water carries my subconscious away and how everything, even my heartbeat, my breath, the pulse of blood changes with that first rain.  It's beautiful, but not as beautiful as when I wake up in the darkest time to rain.  The sound and scent and blissful cool soothe the heat from a weary body and parched skin drinks in moisture, easing pain so slight and pervasive only its absence is felt.

The rain dilutes itself over time, and I'll begin to drown as the rainy season floods my senses.  But in the beginning ... it's liquid magic.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's Not All Greek to Me

I try not to rant too much, but every once in awhile someone says something that brings that sort of thing out in me.

Someone hit a wrong button on a debit card machine and somehow got into the Spanish menu.  "I hate this!" she burst out.  "This is America!"
Shorthand for this is America and we only speak English here, and everyone else has to speak English too.
Regardless of whether they're just visiting as opposed to permanent or semi-permanent residents?  Regardless of age?
Yes, I think that people who decide to come live here ought to try to learn English in order to get by in our country, and I agree that kids should, if they're in mainstream schools, have all their tests in English, etc.  

But.

I think the hostility is misplaced.  My DH told me about how in Istanbul he found it remarkable that his waiter could get by, at least enough to do business, in a dozen languages.  And then he found out that was true in another restaurant.  And another.  And another.  Naturally this worked out great for him, since he could only barely get by in Arabic.  It left a deep impression on him, not only because the waiters were so clever/intelligent/adaptable, but because it showed so much hospitality.

I know many people feel like this country has been too hospitable to immigrants, especially illegal ones, but please read on.

When my family went to the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia and behind the Iron Curtain) to visit family, a *huge* number of citizens there knew English, Russian and German.  In fact, we were standing in a store line in a duty-free store and my father tugged on my mom's sleeve.  "Hey, that little kid is speaking perfect Czech!" he said in Czech.  "Yeah," my uncle said behind him, not missing a beat, "and that German kid is speaking really good German too."  There were so many languages bandied about that he'd forgotten we were in Prague for a moment.  And the locals could understand the vast majority of languages spoken by everyone in that store.  Was the Czech identity bankrupt because of this?  No.  It's a country proud of its culture, a culture that lacks diversity to a certain extent because so many people that come to live there become absorbed.  They become Czech within a generation, sometimes less (invaders often found that a large percentage of their population went 'native.')  

Sound familiar?  Ah, America, the great melting pot ... but somehow some of its citizens have become fearful not just of immigrants, but of ... what?  Having lots of languages spoken on her soil?  I have to wonder what the harm in that would be.  All I can think of is how much we have to gain, not by increasing the number of 'national languages' (there's no need to be so official and mandate-y) but by expanding our ability to communicate with the whole world.  Aren't there any people/opinions/blogs/whatever out there written in foreign languages worth connecting with?

Back in the day, schools were expected to teach children at least one foreign language, a musical instrument, at least one classical language like Latin or Greek, art, and literature.  Bare minimum.  As public schools became more and more strapped for money to hire good instruction, private schools became the last hold-out for the 'classic' education.  

Are people afraid of America becoming multi-lingual because they themselves might be left behind?  I don't know if there are people who are multi-lingual who hold the point of view that we shouldn't have multi-lingual tech support and language choices on ATMs and debit machines.  I know, the schools don't have time and resources to have mandatory languages taught in them from an early enough age to create multi-lingual fluency.  But shouldn't kids be learning something at home too?  Which gave me an intriguing idea--maybe our family should pick a language and only speak that at dinner.  Movie and a dinner could be done with the movie in, say, French, with English subtitles to help us follow the story.  

But I digress.

Another story from Prague--my sister and I were in a crystal shop, talking while we waited in line.  I overheard one of the clerks say "Look, they're Americans.  Let's make them wait."  I turned to her and said "I can understand what you're saying."  She turned beet red and had to retreat to the back room, she was so embarrassed.

Ignorance is ignorance, and prejudice is prejudice.  People speaking Spanish or French or German or Japanese on the bus amongst each other are speaking in their native language--the language they can speak the best.  While my sister and I were in that store, we could have only had the most simplistic conversation, since we don't know Czech as intimately as we do English.  Were we trying to be secretive?  No.  But we did have a huge advantage--we understood Czech.  Don't think for a second that people who struggle with English (and it's a tough language, even for people who speak languages in the same family) can't understand you.  It's you who can't understand them, whether it's accent, or the way they struggle with grammar, or the softness of a voice made shy by unfamiliarity--or because you can't speak their native language.  Despite any awkwardness in English, they have the advantage.  Maybe that's where the fear comes in.  But you know, that advantage is easily negated by language books on tape or a night class.  Should you have to?  No.  But I didn't beat my arachnophobia by insisting that the government eradicate all the spiders in the U.S., or genetically modify them so that they didn't come into my house or build their webs across the sliding glass doorway (I hate that!)  I had to learn about spiders to help ease my fears.  I also had the choice to continue to do the heebie-jeebie dance every time I saw a spider in the bathtub, and to live in dread of going outdoors in summer.  But that would have made a very narrow, fearful life for me.  

The person with two or more languages in their heads is someone whose intelligence I can respect.  And I have to admit that I lose respect for people who cling to one and claim it is the only language anyone should communicate in because of where they are, with no regard to that person's business there.  And that business may be something that takes only a few days, or a few hours.  Just because someone speaks Spanish (or French, or German, or ...) it doesn't automatically mean that they plan to spend the rest of their lives in the place that they happen to be.  I doubt anyone in tourist-weary Paris would expect me to know more than a handful of badly-pronounced French phrases, and they would famously rescue me by speaking really good English, or locating someone passing by who knows it.  Are we as Americans somehow safer, or better, or more patriotic, or more special because it would take much longer to find someone passing by who spoke French if a Parisian happened to be visiting our country?

By the way, no one is forcing anyone to learn Spanish or any other language to get by in America.  If there are a lot of Spanish or other-speaking people around, chances are if you say hi in English, they'll say hi back, and even say how are you in English.  And those signs have English as the top option, often in a bigger font.  No skin off my back, or anyone else's, right?  If I'm wrong, please correct me.

Another thing.  Based on my observations of my grandmother who has been trying to learn English starting in her fifties (she's now almost 90)--sometimes, for whatever reason, some people who become permanent citizens simply can't learn more than a little English.  Should they be thrown out because they can't learn English (or denied citizenship in the first place)?  I don't know the answer to that one, but I must say it makes me uncomfortable to think of all the wonderful, talented people from all around the world who make a living in our country who would be denied work visas or citizenship based on their linguistic ability.  (Not to mention I'd sure miss my grandmother!)  I personally don't care what language my surgeon speaks.  I just want him to be the best surgeon I can get.  This was highlighted in a weird little news story I read in the newspaper today about how certain countries have shortages in various professions because they're restricting citizenship.  Because they don't have the right schools, or there isn't enough interest (who would have thought England would be short on people who know how to shear sheep?  But they are.  I'm not making this up!) they have no choice but to hope that someone from another country will come in to fill the gap.  Except ... yeah.  Sorry, apparently the sheep shearers willing to move over don't fulfill immigration requirements.  Guess there'll be a wool shortage, and some pretty unhappy sheep.

Anyway, I'll keep my opinions about immigration, illegal or otherwise, to myself.  Regardless of stance, though, pouring anger into hatred of foreign language being spoken on our soil (oh, the audacity) and having signs in many languages (thank goodness they had those in Montreal,) or having an option for Spanish and/or French, or other languages on product packaging--I don't see a reason to beat up on that.  I'm proud that I can stumble along in more than a couple of languages on those multi-lingual signs.  And I'm sorry, but it makes more sense to have Spanish and French on our street signs than Braille on a drive-up ATM (though I understand that that can be useful at times.)  

Sometimes I choose the Spanish option just to see how far I can get in a computer menu.  Worried about Alzheimers?  Screw learning Sudoku.  Learn a foreign language.  Now that's real brain work.  

This is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, not Land of the Willfully Ignorant and Home of the Afraid.  Yay America, the Great Melting Pot!  I'm proud to be a (multi-lingual) American.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Deeper Shade of Gold

I had a busy couple of weeks. Guests from the Denver area (hi Marc & Diana!) and work and all that kind of thing, plus I was sick for a couple of days. Luckily (sort of) I didn't have to call in, so I didn't miss any work days.

The weather shifted from hot to normal Pacific NW summer, if there is such a thing, in this last little stretch. The earth is dry, perfumed with scents of hay and hidden dew when I weed. The chickens are growing fast--not getting bigger so much as stronger and they're having trouble peeping like chicks when I come out to feed them. Soon their baby voices will be gone forever, but I'm not sad about that. It's cute, but I find the soft clucks they make charming, and I love waking to the roosters crowing.

Speaking of roosters, so far we have just the two, Henry and a still-to-be-determined Wyandotte. The Wyandotte won't crow when I go out there, so I only see his neck stretch and his wings flap from afar. Henry will crow any time he feels like it, and he only protests a little when I pick him up. It's hard to tell if he likes getting petted and carried around, but at minimum he's learned that I won't hurt him and that he'll be able to go about his business again as soon as I set him down.

Fun times. If there's a hint of sadness, it's because I smell autumn most mornings these days, and it feels too soon. And yet, I'm anticipating that wonderful, soaring longing I feel that we call The Wandering that autumn brings.

It's been a very short summer, one of the shortest we've had since 2002 (or was it 2003?) I remember complaining about the wet, cold June. The talk around town is that we'll have a really rough winter this year. I wonder if I'll finally be able to try out my snowshoes. The girl has, but that's because she went snowshoeing on Mt. Hood with her grandma. So far, local conditions haven't called for them ever since I got them as a Christmas present, a present that I couldn't receive until after we thawed out. Of course I didn't need them anymore that year ....

Time to make lists and lay plans, and to plant onion and carrots to overwinter. Mother Nature won't wait and neither can I if I'm to have half a hope of spring leek soup.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bring on the Heat

We're in the midst of some hot weather, so my day off turned into the day of water. Watering the garden (sprinkler going all day except between 2-4pm,) taking the dogs to the river to soak them, drinking lots. Of water! Jeez, people.

It makes me happy. I like water, and any excuse to play in it on a beautiful day sounds good to me. I like the heat too, and so do my veggies. Tomatoes stalled out in the green stage are starting to turn yellow. The zucchini fruits finally began to swell. After a third day of really warm weather, they might even grow to eating size. And cantaloupe! The little thimble-sized starts that I figured would wither and drop off in the cool weather started to grow. I've got one the size of a golf ball. It might just make it to grapefruit size or even bigger before the weather turns. That would be awesome.

Ah, such low expectations when my hopes had been so high. We had a really, really good early spring, and then the warmth went away and didn't come back. But all is not lost. We often don't get frost until Halloween, so if I garden carefully and well, and cover the warm-loving plants at night and protect them from too much moisture (sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it?) I may have an excellent harvest after all.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Working Two Jobs

I'm starting to remember how precious days off from work can be, especially when I know I won't have two in a row for a while.

Daily writing becomes a serious challenge, as everyone who writes with a day job knows.  The trick, key, whatever you want to call it, is to decide to do it, and then do it regardless of how much time you have in a given day.  If all you have is fifteen minutes out of your lunch, then you have to make the commitment.

Fortunately I have a job that, despite having a variable schedule, is set between fixed hours.  I know the absolute latest hour I'll be home from work on a given day, even if I work the entire day (a shift and a half.)  I also know the absolute earliest that I'll have to come in.  Given those parameters, I can decide in advance if I'm going to write in the mornings or the evenings.  Any other times are bonus times.  I *can* write any time that I'm not at work.  I *choose* to write in the evenings after 9pm, and if I get a little in before work, that's awesome too.  

Without choosing my time to write and then writing at that time, I'd have a lot more missed days for my daily writing goal.  Some people can do it on a day-by-day basis.  I can't.  I need a schedule, or I'm far more likely to blow it off.

Lately I've been writing, instead of reading in bed.  I'm sure it'll change my writing style a bit.  I hope it's for the better.  But at the very least I'm getting words on the virtual page, and that's a writer's primary job, regardless of what the day job might be.

I can see this working on a much more variable schedule with rolling shift changes, but it would require a calendar and a good combination of high expectations and a gut-level knowledge of what you could realistically do.  Thankfully I'm not in that situation.  I think I'd end up doing a lot less writing.

What are your writing habits like?  Do you need to schedule them?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Roof? Woof.

The boy and I climbed the ladder onto the roof and surveyed the job.  Didn't look so bad, and we didn't have to do the south-facing side.  If it were inside the house, it would take maybe an hour to sweep and mop.

And so we began to sweep, and scrub, and discovered the joy that is moss on the roof.

It smells like fish, even when it's dry.  Okay, maybe fish isn't quite right.  Fishy, though, like algae, like the ocean but sans the salt.  It likes to cling tightly to roofing material, which, by the way, is hot in the sun.  Really hot.  As in I couldn't sit on my ass in a new spot without feeling the burn.  But I had to sit sometimes.  Our roof has two levels and I had to get under things and scrape stuff.  Some of it just rolled and bounced off the roof like a lopsided ball, while other bits were more lively and gripped hard.  Those I had to take on with a scrub brush or sometimes, gently, with a screwdriver.

Two days later ...

After work I made some dinner.  While I cooked the boy came into the kitchen and announced that he's finished the last section.  I leap with joy, I heap on the praise, and then remind him that we still have to clean the gutters.

What?

Oh yes, it's time to get back on the roof again.  This time we were on our bellies with our bare arms on the rough, scratchy stuff scraping out handfuls of debris.  It only takes about a half hour, though, and then we rinse.

We climbed down the ladder and surveyed our handiwork.  Ah, the happiness of success and a job well done.

Only now the front of the gutters looks really dirty by comparison, and I notice the paint around the eaves needs to be redone.

It's the curse of a housewife's eye.  Do people really wonder how honey-do lists come to be?  But I'm a working lass now, so I'm free to ignore it for now so I can go earn a paycheck.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Running

When I was a spry nineteen year old, my sister began her first term in college and moved in with me on special dispensation. Normally the college required first term students to live in the dorms, but they could live with family if the place was close enough to campus. Later we took in one of my sister's best friends, who several years later passed away in a single-car accident. (She fell asleep at the wheel.) In those days, at least how I remember them, we had good times.

One of the things my sister did was join crew. To be part of the team, you had to go running a certain distance every day. To help her out, and because I'd gained my freshman fifteen (and some) I promised to join her at least every other day.

So we went running around, usually after dark because of our schedules. I'd always hated running until I started running with her. We'd joke around, talk about stuff, and challenge each other. When she couldn't run on a given night, I missed it enough that I went out on my own. And it was great. I started to feel truly alive, and light--not just in weight but in spirit, like I could go on forever (though while I was actually running I felt like a lead butt.)

Then one day, when my sister got a bit ahead of me on the big, last-stretch hill that we lived on, something in my knee went ping. It wasn't a particularly sharp ping, but I stopped running and started to walk, and then limp, and then found I couldn't really bend my leg much.

By the time I got to the apartment my knee had swollen up. I thought I'd snapped something, but it turned out to be less serious, but at the same time, more extensive damage. By running on pavement, and not just any pavement but sidewalk cement which is the worst, I'd turned the normally smooth surface under my kneecap into a rough road full of potholes.

It took a lot of ibuprofen, months of physical therapy and rebuilding to get my knee to bend again, and then another couple more months to walk without a limp. The doc told me that I'd probably need knee surgery by the time I reached forty.

Well, here I am at 42, and I'm running again. No surgery, just the application of lessons learned and reaping the benefits of years of keeping my legs, especially my knees, in the best shape that I could. I try as much as possible to do 'silent running'--trying to run quietly as a measure of how much impact my joints are taking. I also practice good alignment--feet, ankles and knees all pointed in the right direction. And last, although I'm forced to run on pavement most of the time because of our local roads, when conditions allow I take breaks from asphalt running by running on the shoulder wherever it was recently mowed and flat enough.

I'm not there yet, but I'm looking forward to feeling light again. I've taken up running since college a couple of times, and stopped, and started and stopped. I don't know how long I'll stick with it this time, but I have a new incentive.

The boy wants to be able to run an 8 minute mile. We've worked him down to about nine and a half minutes on the flat, about eleven and a half on the grueling hills around our house. I love running with him. We joke around, challenge each other, and talk about stuff ....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grateful

Another late day at work.  It still feels good to be working even after six out of seven days in a row (tomorrow will be day seven.)  After that long dry spell trying to find a job and not even getting calls, and forget about interviews ... it'll feel good to be working again for quite a while.  I'll hazard that it might not even ever get old to be employed.

I pruned my sacrificial tomatoes (it's okay to do that--really) today and tied them up after having them crawl wild around on the ground for way too long.  These are the tomatoes that I planted out waaay early to see when they'd start actually growing as opposed to sitting there shivering in the cold.  That helped me time when I put out the tomatoes I carefully raised from seed.  All the tomatoes are doing really fabulous.  

Little known fact about tomatoes--if you let them creep on the ground, they'll root as they go.  I haven't let them do this before, but in theory I don't see any issues with treating them like, for example, squash, and letting them ramble on the ground.  I might try this next year.  To keep the tomato fruits clean, I'll probably put down some sort of mulch.  I think straw would work really well.

The chickens are doing really well too.  Hermia, the little one that I thought might die, is now the biggest one, and she turned out to be a he.  He's now known as Henry--because Henry had six wives.  We might have other roosters, in which case Henry's wives will be dropping in number.  It'll be a few weeks more before we can settle on who is what, as they're still peeping and acting like babies most of the time.  The only reason we know about Henry is because he's been rearing up, flapping his wings and crowing in the evenings.  That's a pretty sure sign of rooster-dom.  Despite their little baby voices, they sure do look grown up.  I won't expect eggs until November, though, and they might wait until next year.  Many chickens don't lay, or lay fewer eggs, in winter.  It's a time of rest for them, and I don't intend on tricking their bodies by setting up an artificial light and heat in winter so they'll lay.  I think the extra developmental time will do them nothing but good.

I'm looking forward to having two days off in a row so I can do some serious gardening, the dawn to dusk kind.  Much as I love working, I do miss puttering around.  I'm sure the weeds didn't miss me, and they will be sad when I get back to them.

I'm really grateful for what we have right now.  It's a very peaceful feeling.

Monday, July 26, 2010

We're Slow (Normal for us) but Live


We have online connectivity at home again. Whew!  

I've been working at my new (old) job for five days now and I've only made a couple of glaring errors, only one of which could get me written up (or fired, since I'm on probation.)  I'm getting some of my old speed back, though, which is nice.  I'm not the fastest cashier in the world by a long shot, but I think I'm pretty efficient w/o being like a machine focused entirely on scanning stuff in.  In a lot of ways it would be easier to be just a machine, but making eye contact, listening to the customers, and having those fun micro-conversations makes work more pleasant.  Hopefully the customers like it too.  

I balanced to zero today.  For non-cashiers, that means you're neither short nor over on cash, various slips, coupons, and stuff like that.  I like my boss, I like my coworkers--it's good to be working again, especially considering our local unemployment rate.  We dipped below ten percent, finally, but too much of that includes temporary jobs.  Some of those temporary jobs showed up outside our house and then later on the highway at the bottom of the hill as large road crews worked on our roads.  Yay for better roads ... except I don't think they were that bad, at least not compared to the interchange near our usual bridge which is riddled with potholes.

I suspect complex budgeting issues created by our government's system of spending are why we're getting all this attention while other areas fall apart.  It might be that the politicians aren't in touch with what people really need and want, but I think it's actually more likely that the political system itself makes budgeting so hard that even experts end up making weird or even bad choices because the alternatives are worse.

But, that's all depressing stuff.  I'd rather celebrate the job thing for now.  I can grind my teeth later when I have less stuff to catch up on.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Boy Will Drive! Eeeeeee!


The boy is in his first driving class today. Eeek! Watch out for him on the roads over the next several weeks.

Looks like it's going to be an excellent class.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yay Interview

I have my first interview after sending out I don't know how many applications starting last August. It's a place I've worked before. I'm hopeful. I was hoping to find something approximating full time and on a regular schedule, but I don't mind retail, and this business is very, very close to home, which is a huge advantage. It also has really good benefits, which is unusual for retail.

Wish me luck!

Posts will continue to be sporadic as we haven't gotten the new modem yet. I know that special orders take extra time, so I'm trying to be patient, but wading through the gizillions of emails I get after just a couple of days ... wow. I thought Wifi time at the library was time consuming before. Now it really takes a serious chunk of time. I'm learning to prioritize, and take most of my emails home unread. If any of them need replies, I send those out the next time I Wifi. If you've sent me an email and there's a long, terrible silence, that's why.

Wah. And Yay. It balances out to a good day, and a potentially great week.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oops


The boy kicked out a line and broke our modem. I won't be posting much until our specially-ordered dial-up modem comes in.

Now why in the world wouldn't stores carry modems anymore? It's not like they were used in the stone ages or something.

Oh wait, yes they were.

I wonder how many people still use them. I'm guessing three, besides us.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Billions and Billions of job applications

Applying for jobs sure is different these days.

I've filled out a lot of online applications, and it makes me wonder how difficult it is to sort through all of them. Back in the day, someone had to show up to pick up the application, or make special arrangements to apply for a job over long distances. Now, anyone with computer skills can fill out an application. Combined with the job market these days, there must be hundreds, even thousands of applications for every search-able job that opens up.

It's a whole new kind of slush pile.

Also, I used to be able to shake hands with a manager when I picked up an application, and talk enough to let him know I can communicate with other human beings in a reasonable fashion. That would be hard, if not impossible, to discern from an electronic application. So how would someone decide who to call, out of all those applicants? You couldn't call them all. I happen to have work history, which probably helps (maybe) but what about the kids just hitting the market with no job experience? How can they convey that they can not only text each other, but say hi to a real human being and maybe even get work done that involves other real people? GPA?

I'm intrigued by the idea of people leaving different impressions through electronic applications. Spelling/grammar will be part of it, as will references and such, but handwriting analysis is out the window. Does experience give HR specialists a feel for this sort of thing? Does HR read tea leaves?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Warm at last

I can't complain about the hot weather.  In fact I'm loving it.  I need to take frequent breaks indoors--my system can't acclimate that fast from days in the 60's F to days in the 90's F--but it feels really good to do simple things like give the puppies outdoor baths, and to have that liquid, languid feeling right down to my bones.  We've got plenty of water in the well, and the downstairs is nice and cool, which helps.

The seedlings are probably suffering, and may not survive the shock of going from wet, cold weather to dry, very hot weather in such a short space.  I'm giving them plenty of water in hopes of keeping their morale high so that they won't give up on me.  Failing that, I guess I'll have lots of nice, well-weeded, well-fertilized beds for fall crops.  

Now that the puppies are all clean and fluffy white, I won't feel ashamed to take them down to the river for wading and walkies.  I'd take a pic of them, but as soon as they finished shaking off they retreated under the porch, where the temps are fifteen or more degrees cooler.  It's their version of downstairs, and I don't blame them one bit for napping there all day.  Bonus--after a long afternoon snooze, as soon as the weather cools down in the evening--you haven't seen such racing about, barking and leaps of glee from big dogs.  

I wonder if they dream of winter.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Writers of the Future Honorable Mention

I received my second honorable mention from Writers of the Future.  They sent me a lovely certificate in the mail.  Congratulations to all the other honorable mentions, and good luck to those who are still in the running.

If you write speculative fiction and you qualify, this is a really good contest with no entry fee.  I know a surprising number of past winners--or maybe not surprising, as this contest has been going on for a long time now.  They have fantastic judges and excellent prizes.  Their new submission quarter began July 1, so even if you have a story in the running for last quarter, you can send another in for this quarter.  

Their main website with complete rules, faq, etc. is here.  If you're an artist, you'll find information for the Illustrators of the Future contest at the same site.

Oh, and be careful if you're driving today.  Sadly there are more drunk drivers on the road on Independence Day than usual, so watch out.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Celebrating Freedom

Writing.  Gardening.  Chickens.

The weather turned cool and rainy (again) but apparently it's just a passing thing.  Looks like we'll have a really nice Independence Day, Fourth of July, whatever you want to call it.

We can see several fireworks shows off in the distance from our place.  It's nice to kick back, listen to our own music, and watch the colors and lights, and listen to the distant booms.  The pops, cracks and explosions are on long delay.  Sometimes we count the delay, like lightning and thunder.

So, weirdly, it's a peaceful holiday for us.  Sometimes the neighbors put on a show, but even that is usually pretty brief, and then relative quiet descends.  We just have a few extra pretty, sadly brief stars in the sky.  The animals are grateful.

Which makes me really feel for the folks in town where there are fireworks galore starting a couple of days before and continuing to pop off for days afterward, not to mention ongoing chaos long after the advertised hours most cities post for legal firework activities.  I don't know what percentage love the holiday vs. those that loathe and/or fear it, but I do know there are enough people and animals that suffer with all the noise that it lends a keen edge to the day.

I don't think something should be banned because it upsets a bunch of people and/or animals.  There are lots of things that we do that are downright deadly that no one would dream of ever banning, like driving around in cars, or eating ribeye steaks.  (Well, okay, some people dream about that.)  Still, I try to be a careful driver, mindful of my responsibilities.  I don't give vegetarians a hard time for their food choices, as I expect that they won't hassle me about mine.  And when we shoot off fireworks, for the sake of our neighbors and our animals, we keep it short, sweet, and within the legal hours.  It just seems more ... I don't know ... in the spirit of celebrating an American holiday to not only express joy at our freedoms, but to respect the fact that we're not a monoculture--we're all about the melting pot (or we claim to be--or is that no longer taught in schools?)  I'd hate to see a tradition banned for fear of injuries or offending someone or excluding people or out of dread that we'd be promoting something religious or pseudo-religious on a government/social level using the Constitution as an excuse, like the whole Christmas thing being banned from schools (I'm not even a Christian and that still makes no sense.)  But keeping Independence Day and all our holidays in perspective, so that they're fun, rather than using it as an excuse to terrorize or intimidate or to try to make it into some sort of political statement that supports a party or an action toward a foreign nation ... fun makes sense to me.  It also makes sense to expect that people will do whatever they want and twist around whatever celebration comes along to serve their own purposes at the expense of others.  That's part of our country too--we have good, and bad, and I don't think we should ban Halloween because some kids egg peoples' houses.  You know?

Yay freedom.  Yay courage.  Yay living all together, in as much peace as a bunch of messed-up primates can manage.  Holidays, whether they're religious, political, or social, are always a mixed bag.  You can't have Father's Day without an estranged family feeling in the dumps about it or men who are intentionally childless wondering where the heck is the day that honors them?  But I wouldn't want to do without holidays. 

By the way, for those who feel left out:  there's no reason why folks can't celebrate or make up their own holidays, and move them around the calendar to fit their days off if need be.  It's not like Easter is on the same day each year, you know.  We celebrate our own holidays here at the farm all the time.  They circle around birthdays and the seasons.  They're no less special just because there's only a few of us that celebrate them.  

So here's to the Fourth, and to holidays in general.  Maybe you can celebrate, if nothing else, life and that which you love.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dakota is on the mend

Dakota made it out of surgery okay, but she's still one sore and woozy lady.  The first 24 hours are the diciest.  The tumor came out okay, but there was a lot of it--our wonderful vet Monica (my go-to lady for our goats and a top quality vet for any animal) did an awesome job and actually cleaned it all out, something we were pretty sure wouldn't happen.  It was unusual.  This, coming from someone who has done a gazillion of these surgeries.  If it was some sort of funky cancer, there's really not much we could do, but it didn't jump up and scream cancer when she looked at it.  Both these factors helped us decide not to send it in for expensive lab tests.

Dakota will have a drainage port in her side for a week.  I took some time to clean her up today, as she was laying in her own drainage, and I had to clean up the upholstery in the car.  There's something very visceral about cleaning up blood.  I'm used to cleaning up my own, and of course after processed meat, but when it's someone else's, even a dog's or a goat's ... yeah.  I kept thinking, out, damned spot ... I had to wash my hands several times afterward to get them even remotely clean.

Anyway, Dakota's doing well.  She's a tough lady, very sweet and calm, which will help her in her recovery.  It was good to see her walking around today.  I know I wouldn't be up and about nearly as soon or as ably as she'd been getting around after a surgery like that! 

Chicken Baths

Here's my first shot at posting a movie. Let me know if it works! video
It's hard to tell the Wyandottes apart, but I think that's Mustardseed and Cobweb with Beatrice. Jimmy Buffett is playing in the background. I usually listen to my iPod while I'm working outside.

Sorry it's so blurry (assuming you can see it.) The chicks are inconveniently taking their bath in the shade. I love their little peeps. My peeps peep.

A place of their own


Wind goddess sketched onto the coop's east side, where most of our wind comes from in winter

The chicken coop still isn't completely finished, but they're staying in there from now on. It has the galvanized roof tacked on, and I finished staining the whole darned thing.

I wasn't sure they'd go back in on their own, but they did, instead of scurrying up to the house where there's light like I'd feared.

They're turning out gorgeous--or maybe that's mommy vision at work. You tell me!

Hermia, Beatrice, Cobweb, Mustardseed and Peasblossom

Beatrice and Mustardseed. I can tell the three Silver-laced Wyndottes apart, but it takes me a sec ...

Cleo (short for Cleopatra) and Hero. Yes, we named them after Shakespearean characters.