Monday, July 31, 2006

Oh, what a relief it is

The heat is off. The high pressure front started moving out Friday, and by Saturday night we could turn off the AC, which has had the electric meter whirling like a slot machine, only it sucks up cash instead of giving it out. It was swamp cooler time yesterday, and we even got into the garden yesterday morning to pull up the tired green beans and till a bit. I'll replant stuff later this month.

Temps are going to creep back up this week, but nothing like the 110+ temps we've had the last two weeks. Highs barely in the 100s, if that. We said last night that if anyone had told us 10 years ago that we'd be grateful for temps in the low 100s, we'd have wondered what they were smoking. Remember that 40% humidity is high for here, and our normal is under 20%.

Fire is not our friend, at least in summer

Summer has wonderful smells -- mouthwatering burgers or steak on a hot grill; the freshness of cold, just-sliced watermelon; pungent chlorine from a pool. And the frightening smell of fire burning trees and foliage and structures.

We've sniffed it on the air these past two mornings, this Junction City fire near Weaverville, and according to reports, it hung over Redding like a pall today. It's some 70+ miles away from here, north and west of us, and yet, the smoky air is unmistakable.

Fire is what we fear here in California, when the grasses go gold and crispy, and even a spark from your car's catalytic converter can ignite a blaze that can destroy thousands of acres, as the one in Manton did last year. The smell of smoke in the air can make the ice weasels dance in your stomach.

We had a fire in the neighborhood two years ago -- a detached garage burned, doused by four CDF units before the nearby house could catch on fire. We saw the blaze from our windows and quickly walked the quarter mile to see which house it was. The firefighters were pumping water from a swimming pool across the street and neighbors came to see and to shake their heads in sympathy. No one was hurt, pets were evacuated, vehicles beyond reach of the flames. It was a frightening reminder to make sure there is 100 feet of defensible space around the house, to be unerringly careful about causing a spark.

Those neighbors have rebuilt, but also have added a huge water storage tank, and have a menagerie of sheep, goats, and llamas to munch down the underbrush. None of us will forget that fire anytime soon.

The Junction fire is now 70% contained, Highway 299 to the coast has been reopened and evacuations have been cancelled. One structure burned. There are more than 1500 firefighters there; total costs are estimated so far to be $2.3 MILLION. Cause is unknown at this point.

Fire is our tornado, our earthquake. It can strike and destroy with very little warning. So with this abundant California sunshine everyone envies comes responsibility and caution, and prayers for those who put their lives on the line in the heat of summer, in the heart of fire.

Friday, July 28, 2006

It's always something

So said Roseanne Rosannadanna (aka Gilda Radner). And it's true. Seems like when I'm really working hard to meet a deadline or make an event, there is always something that hangs it up, that delays the completion.

Today, for instance, I was nearly finished with the newsletter and had planned to get it to the print shop today. Nope. Got the layout done, started printing it. Four pages spewed out of the printer just fine. The fifth and sixth sat there, the green bar on the printing progress bar not moving, stuck at half done.

Went to lunch, thinking it'll have printed when I get back.

Oh yes. It printed. It printed half a ream of paper with the PCL -- printer control language, Tony tells me -- with little hearts, bars, signs, numbers. Some with one row. Some with 20-something. Half a ream of this gibberish.


The printer won't cancel; the computer won't cancel. My technie husband takes over and reboots. I stomp out to the garden to check on sprinklers and cucumbers and to blow off steam.

It still won't print.

So I spend the next 45 minutes figuring out that the problem is a gi-normous graphic that was sent to me for inclusion in the publication, and which is hanging up everything.

Send it to Tony; he resizes; I place it; all's well. Printer spits 'em all out, no gagging.

Except that it's now 4:30 and too late to get to the print shop. And they're closed Monday. So the newsletter that was going to be mailed July 31 will now be in the mail sometime between Aug. 2-5. Can't cross that one off just yet.

So it's on to the next "to-do" and we'll see what fresh hurdles wait.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Failure is not an option

I've been cranking yesterday and today -- writing business letters, doing advertisements, gathering information, tidying up messy areas, and working on a quarterly newsletter deadline .

It's too hot (okay, okay, so that's not news -- 113 degrees yet another day) to do anything else. Besides, being productive and crossing stuff off that long to-do list is very satisfying, in a righteous sort of way. Never mind that there are still some tasks that I continue to successfully procrastinate doing: it's about progress, not perfection.

Nonetheless, that old need to do things "perfectly," not to fail another's perceived expectations of the way I should be doing a task, is still there, drat it. I don't do failure well -- a trait that my daughter unfortunately shares. And failure doesn't have to be something big: it can be some niggling task, a tiny detail omitted, and if someone mentions it, I can blow off the whole deal as my failure.

That's not all the time, mind you. There are tasks where I just do the best I can with the information I'm given, and if someone finds fault, well, then, tough. And I can let it go. I've come that far, at least.

But when I'm the least bit fragile or doing something I'm a little unsure about, I hear "failure" in any criticism (I'd be the first to get fired in Trump's board room). This is not a good thing. It's also not new behavior: I've worked on this my whole life.

It does, however, have its advantages when deadlines draw near. I've always been very deadline-oriented, and while I might meet it by a hair, I nearly always make it. (Most of the time it's that fear of failure, of invoking someone's displeasure or their perception that my work is adequate but not excellent that is my primary motivation, however.)

And I'm harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be, another character flaw that I work on improving. It's rare that I really deserve the beating that I give myself --

But for these two days, at least, I've crossed items off my list. I'm moving in a better direction again, and that's a big accomplishment. Today I've done all I can, where I am, with what I've got. That's success.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Leaky faces in the family

Our family has "leaky face" syndrome -- that is, we puddle up at most anything that is sad, sentimental, happy, cute, nostalgic, and so on. It gets worse as we get older.

It's barely past noon today, and I've puddled three times already. First was when I read a blog by a woman who is dealing with her dad's illness and final decline -- so reminiscent for me of Mother's, as chronicled throughout this blog. It reminded me again of how very hard it is to watch a loved one slip bit by bit away from you and onto that shining, shining path.

Second and third were the accounts of Tiger Woods and Chris DeMarco at the British Open. Tiger won and promptly burst into tears, missing his father's presence so much at this first win without him; Chris's mother died early this month and he felt her guidance throughout the tournament.

Now I'm not the golfer in the family, but Daddy and Jimmy were/are passionate about the game, and I guess you absorb some of it just by listening. The sports section is not one I read either, but the headlines grabbed me today.

The sadness, the grief, the aching hole left by death is what resonated, and I puddled right up -- for Tiger, for Chris and his dad, for Jimmy, for me. We belong to that club, that one where you desperately, longingly miss the presence of your biggest supporter -- your parent. The one where you have to rely on memory to hear the advice and the admonitions and the pride in their voices -- to hear their voices at all, the timbre, the pitch, the tone, the laugh, the softness...

I used to just close my eyes and listen hard when, during our weekly calls, Daddy would rant about the latest political mess either at home or nationally. I'd soak up his voice then, as I did more recently with Mom, storing it in my memory bank -- not retaining much of the detail, but all of the sound. I hear Mom when I open her cookbook and see her handwriting on the maraschino cherry chocolate cake recipe. I hear Daddy when I'm going a little faster than I should be, telling me to slow down, that I don't have to be anywhere that fast.

I don't hear them every day. I don't have a leaky face every day. But today the stories reminded me of their absence, of their great love for us, and I miss them.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Out of sorts

It's 113 degrees just now, and could go higher. These temps have been our norm for the past -- oh, nearly a month, I think -- but the humidity has soared this week (okay, 35-40% humidity is nothing in the Midwest where I grew up, but for here, it's very high).

All of California is baking this week, as has much of the country. In this kind of heat, only air conditioning brings some relief -- while we used our swamp cooler even on some of the higher temps last week -- 109, 110, even -- when the humidity rose, we gave it up and turned on the AC. It's hot even at night, too.

The kitties lie panting on the concrete porch, stretched long in front of the door where a breath of cooler air might leak. I bring them ice cubes sometimes, and they'll lick at them half-heartedly before they collapse against the wall again.

It's just too hot.

And I'm out of sorts -- I guess that's the best term for it. Funny how you can go to bed feeling blessed and positive, and wake up feeling just slightly "off," where nothing tastes especially good, your body feels drained and sluggish and lumpy, motivation has taken a backseat to ennui.

It's probably the heat. It's good to have a scapegoat, anyway.

We had one cloudy day this week, where temperatures stayed below 100 until late in the afternoon when the clouds broke up. Made me long for summer showers -- although these would have been warm rains with stifling humidity. And summer storms are scary here because of lightning and the potential for fire. So never mind...

It's supposed to be slightly less hot tomorrow. Maybe my "sorts" will be back in place too.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Moving into flexibility

I am so *not* an exercise person. I've spent a great deal of money joining gyms in January and have forgotten where they were located by March. I've never understood the allure of "working out" until your face is stoplight red, your (unfashionably baggy) tee shirt is soaked with sweat, your hair is plastered damply to your forehead, and your legs feel like overcooked noodles.

And then there's the whole body image thing... every time I'd go to the gym, I'd be the only chunky one in the room, surrounded by anorexic troll types in tight bicycle shorts and sports bras and tanned, firm abs, sweat bands holding back long curls that just look better when slightly damp. That's not motivating.

I've had treadmills and exercise bikes (great clothes racks), ab rollers (hard to decorate around), and even a tidy little package called the Isorobic, which I've actually used from time to time, although not enough to make much difference. I've got a dusty Richard Simmons in my DVD collection.

But I like yoga.

Actually, I started doing yoga about 10 years ago when I was at "that" stage in life where your body betrays you with dripping hot flashes at inopportune times and you don't sleep, at least well. I'd wake early, about 5 a.m. --always unusual for me -- and pop the yoga tape into the VCR, take off my nightie, and proceed to stretch and twist for about 45 minutes, although I never was able to bend so that my head touched my knees. Yes, nude.

My daughter even wrote a monologue about that for her theatre classes, which got me some pretty funny looks from the professors who'd occasionally direct plays I'd audition for.

I've used tapes off and on (mostly off) since then, but had taken only one real class, a few years ago, until May, when I found that our community center was offering classes twice a week. I've been going ever since.

Nobody cares what you wear or what's hiding under the baggy tee shirt. We're all trying to keep up with the instructor, to bend and twist and breathe. She tells us to do what our bodies will allow us to do, and not to strain muscles. The work is focused inward.

So we do the sun salutation to plank to cobra to downward dog and back again. We twist from half chair into warrior. We balance precariously into the tree pose, arms shaking to maintain the pose, the foot reaching for stability. My goal is to be able to hold that pose for longer than 3 seconds.

And it's working: I don't hurt when I get out of bed in the morning or rise from a chair after sitting for some time. I feel lighter, somehow, when I walk. Joints are more fluid. The meditative aspects of breathing in and out through the poses, feeling the muscles stretch fiber by fiber, are healing, a soothing balm in a busy day.

Sure, it's exercise. Sure, my face gets red and I get sweaty. But there is a deeper side to yoga, one which benefits the soul and the mind as well as the body. I never felt that lifting weights or pedaling a bike. I'm learning flexibility and balance as I move and breathe -- lessons which I can take into every part of life. Who knew?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The secret ingredient

We had pancakes for breakfast, but they weren't the white-flour-bad-for-you variety. Nuh-uh. These were healthy pancakes, with a secret ingredient, and Tony liked them enough to suggest that I post them here.

So here it is:
11/2 cups oatmeal (not quick)
2 cups fat-free milk
2 eggs (or use egg substitute or whites)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup bran or wheat germ (I also added about 1T of flaxseed meal)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar or Splenda
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon (or to taste) cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
and the secret ingredient?
3/4 to 1 cup finely grated zucchini

Combine oats and milk and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Stir other ingredients, mixing until blended and only small lumps remain. It may stand for 30 minutes in refrigerator (but I didn't do this step.) You may need to add more water or milk to thin slightly.

Pour batter by 1/4 cup onto hot griddle coated with non-stick spray and use spatula or spoon to spread it thinly. Cook until top starts to bubble and bottom is browned. Turn and cook 1-2 minutes more, until golden brown. Makes 12-15 pancakes.

We ate them with Smart Balance spread and syrup, and they taste sort of like zucchini bread -- slightly sweet, a little spicy, satisfying. And they are very filling because of all the great fiber!

I'm picking zucchini and cukes every day now, and the yield is generous, so I'll be finding ways to sneak zucchini into many things for a while.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Critter watching

I've never really lived in the country until the last 31/2 years. Oh, I've been in a couple of places that bordered on "country," but always safely housed in a neighborhood, on a city lot.

Our 11 acres is five miles out of our little town's city limits. While we're in a subdivision, the property owners have parcels ranging from 5 to 28 acres, and in the summer we can't see them from our house. It may not be way out in the boonies, but it's definitely country.

We have critters here: deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, possums, lizards, frogs, snakes. We hear the coyotes singing their night songs -- and they're not far away. Our neighbors have recently seen at least one red fox. There have been past mountain lion sightings, and even tales of bear following the creek down from the mountains.

Mostly we have deer -- sometimes in twos and threes, but we counted more than 15 in the yard last winter. We watch the antlered bucks then, vying for territory, and in the spring, pregnant does. This time of year we have fawns, tiny spotted sprites bounding after mama.

They aren't afraid of us, although they're cautious. We can sit outside, a safe and respectable distance away, and watch them graze, or nibble at the pineapple cores and watermelon rinds or the baseball bat-sized zucchini and cukes that I leave in the yard "for compost" (even though there's a perfectly good -- and often used -- compost barrel in the garden).

We've never tired of watching "the buddies," as we call them. Sometimes they show evidence of run-ins with barbed wire, or maybe fights, with tattered or partially amputated ears, or scars evident in the brown hide.

Once we assisted a little buddy who'd gotten his back hoof twisted in the fence's top wire in an attempted jump. He/she was frantically churning the ground with his front legs, throwing his body high in an attempt to break free. Donning heavy gloves, we quietly stood at the fence and very carefully pulled the wire apart just enough that the bloodied hoof popped out, and the deer ran, limping some, but gaining ground with every leap.

It would have died there, in agony, had we not helped.

This spring, a doe often visited. Her front leg below the knee joint dangled uselessly, and she lurched awkwardly through the grass using the knee and her other three legs. She didn't appear to be in pain, and she always was accompanied by two or three other deer who seemed to watch out for her and move at her pace. She'd rest often, grazing on what she could reach, and eventually she'd wobble to her feet and move a little further.

I cried when I first saw her, reminded of my mother and how she'd adapted to her physical deterioration, time after time, until all that was left was her grace and dignity.

We haven't seen the doe for a couple of months.

Critter watching is a reminder that even life in a fairly sheltered area can be unpredictable and sometimes very hard. Nature is impersonal: the weak don't make it very long in the wild.

We're lucky, aren't we, to have friends and family who help us when we're weak, who watch out for us when we can't see, who tend to our wounds when we're injured. That connection with each other is our grace, that which saves us from the impersonal.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Moving laterally towards inner healing

It's hot, to be sure -- not unusual for this time of year in the Sacramento River Valley. Except for mornings before 10 and evenings after 7:30, it's too hot to do much outside, unless you are dashing from air conditioned building to air conditioned vehicle. Or you're a farmer or rancher who works outside regardless of weather. I'm not either.

That's my excuse for the complete lack of motivation to do anything that I've felt for the last -- oh -- way too long. It isn't that I can't think of anything to do: the guest room is still full of winter garb waiting to be stashed in the closet. The work table we used to frame photos for a recent show is still in place, towel-draped, screwdriver gathering dust. My office desk has stacks on stacks -- unanswered letters, notepads, file folders, ticket stubs, printouts of now-expired listings. Mother's yet-to-be-filed taxes nag at me from the vertical file set unavoidably in the desk's center. The "temporary" bathroom curtains I hung 31/2 years ago pool inelegantly on the sill.

And there's more, of course.

It's just that I don't feel like doing any of it. So I don't -- or I do only enough to alleviate the guilt about not having something to show for my time.

The days pass so quickly, mostly with little variance in routine. They are lateral; that is, sideways, not forward nor backward, and they meld together into weeks of inertia.

There's been inward progress in these outwardly unproductive days, though. I'm feeling more social. I'm writing more, processing loss and sadness, and hearing the universe comfort me in the garden, in the quiet days, even in the time I spend reading on the Internet. There's always a daily message, sometimes in odd places. The universe gives you what you need to hear, even if you choose not to listen.

Life is too short to squander days with lateral moves. It's time to get back on the path, moving again, but not sideways. Even if it is hot.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Growing things

The garden yielded our first zucchini of the season the other day -- three 10" ones and a couple of smaller ones which I picked in hopes of avoiding the baseball bat zucchini syndrome. It promises to be a bumper crop again this year, based on these first ones, although with only three plants instead of the nine of two years ago, it shouldn't be all-zucchini-all-the-time.

We also picked a nice mess of green beans -- another crop will go into the soon-to-be-vacant lettuce patch, as the lettuce is well on its way to bolting in this heat. The deer will get those gleanings.

Tomatoes are slower this year -- blossoms on some of the plants, but only a few tiny green orbs. There are volunteers sprouting everywhere, but no way to tell if they're the Romas or the tiny yellow pear ones, so I'm yanking them all up (and trying not to feel guilty for killing a plant). The Romas are wonderful for sauce and freezing; the yellow pear ones are great immediate eating, but unbelievably prolific, and we're a little tired of them.

Basil is ready to be picked for pesto or basil and tomato sandwiches, and the sunflowers grow visible inches daily. Green and red peppers share the zucchini space, and two cucumber plants think the garden is all theirs -- one is a lemon cuke, the other Asian. No fruits yet, but lots of blossoms.

It is gratifying to see what you've planted grow and produce. I feel very connected to the universe when I'm putzing the in garden, pulling the determined weeds, admiring the green beans, encouraging the tomatoes, digging in the dirt. I love watching the garden evolve from freshly churned earth to a lushly green oasis.

My mother told me that my grandmother loved gardening, although what I remember are the flowers she grew -- pansies, especially, and snapdragons and iris and peonies and roses. There are pictures of the Duluth house with flower beds circling the house, abundant and tall. I don't remember vegetables, but she'd pay us 5 cents a gallon to pick currants or raspberries. Currants are sour, but raspberries were rewarding, even scratching our way through the brambles to the fruit. We ate as many as we picked.

The obvious metaphor is gardens and work, or gardens and children, and seeing what you've planted thrive and grow.

It doesn't always work that way, however. Sometimes what you plant doesn't do well, whether it is location, too much of one thing, or not enough of another. Sometimes critters sabotage your efforts.

So you pull it up and start over. Or, I suppose, you can simply walk away. I never do, though. I keep feeding, weeding, tending, watering, talking, encouraging. I hate to lose.

It's that patience thing again, isn't it. You keep on -- you do all you can, where you are, with what you've got. And in the end, you're rewarded: you get zucchini, or green beans, or sometimes a reminder that even when you do all you can, results aren't as expected, and what you have learned in the process is the reward.