Good Fortune and A Lot of Racket!

There’s no getting around the fact that I am a very fortunate person. I’d like to try being very wealthy sometime, but that doesn’t seem to be on my horizon. Luckily I spend time every year with Catalina on my horizon, even when it isn’t sharply visible.

As you may know, decades ago a husband of mine introduced me to a former girlfriend of his, and the best friendship between Mary and myself was born. We still love regaling people with that story. And since she lives in San Pedro (aka The Port of Los Angeles), I have the benefit of a wonderful place to visit even when we STILL can’t go back to Italy.

The day after I arrived last month, we headed to the Torrance Farmers’ Market to buy our fill of fresh things to eat. It’s a pretty big market by my standards, so I took a photo of the place where walked in to make it easier to find the place to walk out. Let the buying begin!

Nothing like an area the size of a city block that smells like peaches. There’s also an area that smells like food from many countries cooking, and kettle corn, and the best tamales I have ever eaten. But first, berries.

Doesn’t that look like an embroidery?

Peaches, plums, an array of green things, and then tomatoes.

You can’t help yourself from thinking grateful thoughts toward all the people who work so hard to provide such abundance: the growers, the harvesters, the people who load up and drive all that magnificence to market. And gratitude that it’s all available, and that we can afford to buy what we want of it.

I think my head has become very tired of negativity.

To top this shopping spree off, there was a lovely young man from Abruzzi who sold us the most amazing ricotta I have ever tasted. It was gratifying to hear him pronounce the name just as my east coast Italian peeps do: ri-gawt, with that final “t” not quite pronounced but somehow heard.

Of course, all love goes to the flower growers, too.

After a couple of weeks of indolence, Mary and I forced ourselves to confront the sad, peeling exterior of her house. We did the grown-up thing of entertaining three bids, and then did the Lucy and Ethel thing of choosing the highest bidder because we liked him so much and he liked us.

If you’ve never had to have a house painted, you might want to know that the top number one ideal nirvana dream of having a house painted is hiring a crew that will do a decent prep job and not just spray a primer-paint combo on and call it a day. Well, no good dream goes unpunished, as they say.

Picture yourself, then, in a little 100-year-old bungalow (uninsulated, of course, because California) with a crew scraping and sanding every square inch of wood bare. It was like camping out in your dentist’s office from 8-4 every day for two solid weeks. There was dancing in the streets when the racket ended and every single board was caulked, every gap filled, every popped nail set and caulked, and work with the nice quiet rollers (!) commenced. We stayed home for most of the noisy part so sweet kitty Max wouldn’t be terrified that the world was coming to an end; now and then we’d make a break for it. I biked, Mary walked, and on a few days we treated ourselves to burritos from the taco truck.

We spent a lot of time going back and forth on Paseo del Mar, and if I thought I had a sidewalk garden! This one made me want to turn in my badge.

The lady whose yard it is was out working in it, so I had the chance to tell her what a beautiful garden she had created. People are always complimentary about my sidewalk garden, and it’s nice to be able to pass praise along. Not that we garden for accolades, but I like thinking that people derive pleasure from the colors, bees, butterflies, and all a garden entails besides a sore back.

This year more peacocks and their girlfriends were hanging out on Paseo than I’ve ever seen down there. So fancy!

Meanwhile, back at no-insulation house, even closed windows were letting in prodigious quantities of paint dust. I sort of hoped I’d be around long enough to help Mary with the interior clean-up, but alas…

On this trip, as has become our habit since Rona took over, we mostly ate at home on the back porch. Food was very comforting, especially when that handmade ricotta was involved. If this doesn’t look like summer, I don’t know what does.

More than once we enjoyed the tempeh fajitas from A Beautiful Mess ( If you’ve ever been curious about tempeh, this would be a great introduction. Here it has a very pleasant nutty flavor in that spicy chipotle sauce. Mary prepped it the day before for maximum marination magic, and it was all kinds of wow.

Not to be left out of the home rehab action, Mary and I took on the decrepit front screen door and its hardware. It must have taken eight coats of gel paint stripper to get through the decades of paint so I could even unscrew the hinges to take the door down. We spent hours at the back porch table stripping and scraping the hardware. I would have painted the hinges black, but Mary preferred them bare, with only a clear coat.

We also stripped, scraped, and sanded the door, inspired by the music the painting crew favored even if it did make us crave even more burritos. At one point I texted Floyd a question about my screwdriver bits, and he expressed envy toward my adorable little Makita set. I asked him whether he envied my palm sander:

Not so much, he replied.

At long last we were able to put on the new screening and molding, and the paint boss painted the door. Mary and I somehow managed to re-hang it, and we were inordinately proud of our work.

We think the house and its little garage came out looking beautiful.

I had to leave before everything was quite finished, but I’m glad to have at least some idea of what it must look like now. Guess I’ll have to hurry back.

One of the most gratifying parts of the door project was that Max, who must remain indoors for his own health and safety, now has a secure front door from which he can watch the world go by. It’s too bad Mary’s up-to-the-minute air conditioner occupies so much of this photo, but you get the idea.

Oh, Max!

I’ll own up to the fact that I was glad to return to my spouse & my house & all the mod cons. I’ll really be glad if my weather app lives up to its promise of cooler days and nights in the 50s later this week (eeeeeee! Open windows!). There’s a considerable amount of work to be done in my own yard, but who cares? The worst of summer is over and I was lucky enough to be by the ocean for five whole weeks of it.

Every gardener reading this will know what I mean when I say I’m already thinking about what I’ll put in next spring. As you know I cannot grow food, and don’t love things like kale and chard enough to do a winter garden. So I’m thinking about zinnias and dahlias and varieties of basil (one edible I can grow). I’m pretty sure these daydreams are merely a defense against thinking about the monumental tasks of late autumn, when my life is made of fallen leaves and cutting everything back as the cold moves in.

Maybe I’ll plant bulbs.

Jungle-ish? Jungle-esque?

Any way you type it, that’s what it’s like here in Central Texas. Above you see my little corner of the patio, where I like to sit and talk on the phone with Mary. Of course I can’t do that without the electric fan, a scented candle, and a smoking insect repellent stick going because a jungle-esque world is made of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes and flowers.

It is an unusually cool, wet summer so far; the lower temperatures mean the flowers last longer. And even if the rain knocks crepe myrtle flowers down, what we have then is a carpet of red, pink, purple or white. Still pretty. To the right of that old wheelbarrow is the magnolia corner, which has had to serve as a refuge for my potted plants, almost all of whom need shade. The night-blooming cereus (of which I seem to have many somehow) is planted in a normal-sized galvanized garbage can, and I have no earthly idea what I shall do with it come November.

You can just see a blossom on the left, hanging almost to the ground.

When I am on said phone speaking with said Mary, I am facing in this general direction, which is also the view from my kitchen window. The hummingbird feeder has been a battleground lately. I’d put up a second feeder, but I’ve never found that to reduce combat levels.

Starting from the far left, we have passionflower in a huge pot with a trellis. They are blooming one by one. You can just barely see a Pride of Barbados volunteer (more about volunteers later). The shrubby thing between that and the hummingbird feeder is blue plumbago, which will be beautiful in a few weeks. It sits beneath a maple tree that was a baby when we moved in eleven years ago. Then we have the attention-grabbing American Beautyberry that planted itself in the steel planter. It’s obscuring the basil a bit. And in the right foreground is a pomegranate that froze to the ground during Snowpocalypse.

This is facing a westerly direction. I waited for years for the oaks outside the fence to grow enough so that I’d be sheltered from the afternoon sun when I sit in my designated corner of the patio, and at last it has come to pass.

Just on the other side of that corner is the end of our side yard. When we moved in it was literally a moonscape: a huge evergreen had just been cut down, and the family before us had come upon hard times and couldn’t afford to water. I mean, it was four inches of ash-looking stuff.

Not no more, it ain’t.

It would be a very pleasant place to sit, if only you could go abroad and come home with a few gallons of DDT to deliver with your crop-dusting drone. I am facing the task of removing the huge hedge on the right in time for large brush collection in a couple of weeks (it is deader than it looks), and I am now stockpiling mosquito repellant.

I’m thinking it might not be a lot of fun.

Oddly enough, since no one in suburbia can usually be found sitting in their front yard, the early evenings often find us in our front yard, where I recently carved out a sitting space under the old live oak. Cold watermelon figures heavily in the scenario. There is almost always a breeze. I think when people wax nostalgic about Texas summers, this is the kind of thing they are dreaming about.

That, and swimming in swimming holes that are either spring-fed and therefore icy cold, or snake-infested. Or both. No thanks to that.

Here’s Floyd doing the honors. The sling is a result of shoulder repair surgery last week. He is still a little miffed that they never told him about the shoulder separation after his catastrophic bike crash in April, but I think with seven broken ribs, a broken clavicle, and two collapsed lungs they were a little busy. Besides, I told him, no anesthesiologist in the world would welcome a patient with oozy lungs, so you would have had to wait for the repair anyway.

Please, Universe, can we please have two uneventful weeks around here?

The table is a lovely design, made to go with the bench in the background. Crafted of steel and ipe by the watermelon cutter himself.

It’s a little difficult to capture, but those legs are not touching one another in real life. They’re kind of a square spiral, if you get my drift. I thought the design was so dynamic, I suggested he make the top on the diagonal. I always like things done the hard way. Nevertheless, the result is very pleasing. As you know, I prefer the look of bare steel with just a clear coat. (Note that in the photo with Floyd, you can just see yellow and turquoise shrub-stumps I painted because I am after all unruly.)

I believe it is helpful to think of your yard as a series of rooms, each one of which can have their own personality just as they do in the house. New gardeners often don’t know where to begin with a whole landscape, and breaking it down into small spaces is much easier.

The sidewalk garden is its usual self, providing me with some new thing blooming nearly every day.

I have been delighted by my first zinnias; my daughter gave me a bag of seeds and I just threw them around as directed. They are so pretty!

All those colors everywhere! And individually they are amazing.

Also brought to me by seed (!) strawflowers. Sturdy and so beautiful.

Remind me to grow way many more strawflowers next year. I always have a hard time believing that I can even get fine nursery plants to grow, so the thought that I can turn seeds into something alive and gorgeous is way past my level of comprehension.

I’ve even dried a few.

Don’t they make you want to sing “I’m Old Fashioned?”

Before I forget, let us turn our attention to the topic of volunteers in the garden.

I once went to a meet-up of an Austin gardening bloggers’ group. They have a Facebook page but you are not allowed to share your gardening blog posts on it. Since I only have a PhD there are many things I do not understand, and that is one of them. Why have a Facebook group if you can’t share the point of your Facebook group with one another? But I digress.

They were talking about the curse of Jewels-of-Opar (Talinium paniculatum). Naturally I cannot find a photo of one, nor are mine in bloom yet. But if you imagine a flat-leaf succulent with sprays of tiny pink flowers (it is also known as pink baby’s breath), you’ll get the idea.

Anyway, Jewels-of-Opar is unbelievably prolific, so the garden bloggers who don’t allow the sharing of their blog posts on their Facebook page were complaining how hard it is to get rid of.

Why? I was thinking. It’s so lovely and delicate! It’s edible and you can make a healthy tea with it! I figured that if you really wanted to get rid of it, all you’d have to do is start a Jewels-of-Opar tea business, buy some business cards and a website, do some marketing, and it would be dead in your yard within a week.

Sometimes I can be very skeptical in groups I don’t understand. Must be a defense mechanism of some kind.

But volunteers!

I figure if you really want to live in my landscape, and you won’t even hurt me every time I go near you, you are more than welcome here. We live a block from the greenbelt, an amazing natural preserve, and if my yard wants to go back to its true nature, who am I to stop it?

Case in point: in that front yard space under the big live oak, there have been several iterations of ground cover. when we first moved in it was 18 inches of some kind of stupid jasmine that didn’t even flower. It took me two years to dig it out. I put down crushed granite, but that did not make me happy. Then I did this:

All those rocks were – and still are- beautiful in my eyes. A few years ago I had a burst of winter boredom and did this:

It is not a good thing for me to be bored.

Since then, a number of plants have volunteered/emerged/been started by birds.

Marco Polo would like me to make it clear that he does not volunteer for anything but cookies and catnip.

So we have native lantana, flame acanthus, Pride of Barbados, a little Texas sage, and who knows what-all else claiming their space and growing with no intervention on my part. Next time I’m bored I’ll probably do a little grooming of plants, a little rock-arranging; but if the hummingbirds and bees are happy, who am I to interfere?

Volunteers took over the little front patio area too.

Oh, well.

Despite the jungle-esque humidity, I am way past happy to be back on my bike. It’s been four years since I wasn’t recovering from wrist surgery #1 or wrist surgery #2, and it’s nice to be able to tolerate being on handlebars again. The mornings are absolutely beautiful, with their mild air and growing things to see in all the front yards.

The other day I was headed up a little street when I saw several people standing, looking, taking photos. When I turned to look, I saw a mom and her two little offspring resting on someone’s lawn. Sorry I couldn’t get the three of them to scootch a little closer together, but deer don’t necessarily take direction. These are the young’uns:

Bonne chance, little ones! And be careful in the streets in case you want to come to my house for roses and day lilies. You are welcome, too.

OK, 2021, You Can Leave Now

When we last visited, a week of 10-degree nights, rain, snow, and ice had been all fun and games and photo ops.

A devastated landscape ensued.

What can one do when faced with massive winter damage? Nothing but view the yard as an opportunity to redecorate.

Above, you see your beloved Unruly Gardener going after a big root after an entire day of sawing dead limbs and a jumble of smaller root parts. The tool is a “come-along,” and it’s a heavy one, capable of hoisting 3,000 pounds. The chain is heavy, too.

Why, you may be asking, would an old woman be hoisting this stuff around, while her strong and capable spouse would much prefer to perform such tasks?

Well because we didn’t get eight weeks into this ridiculous year without Floyd having spinal surgery, to repair a very old injury to his neck. Maybe it’s not such a great idea to start a year this way; but after two weeks of horrific post-surgical pain, his neck was better than it had been in years. He could sleep on his side and everything! He just wasn’t supposed to lift heavy things.

[Floyd’s Surgery Recovery Theorem: If I can lift 25 pounds after a week, I can lift 50 pounds after two weeks, etc. The Unruly Gardener is no expert, but she does not think this is good math.]

That method of root removal was so labor intensive, I implored Floyd to help me remove the dumb box hedges (seen on the right of the above photo) via the tried-and-true welding truck method. Wrap the big straps around ugly bushes and drive off.

While I had always enjoyed the wild greenery along this side of the house, I opted for a new look and placed only two “mirror-leaf viburnums” and 1.5 tons of 1″ granite chunks along that stretch. I like the new look a lot.

It seemed like the cleanup would never be finished. Week after week of sawing, lopping, trimming, bagging, and tying stretched along. I want to give a huge round of applause to the people who do yard waste pick-up here in Austin.

My guys are so wonderful they had even come into the yard to help me haul off the largest limbs. NextDoor was crackling with people complaining that their yard waste pick-up was late. Ya gotta love the humans, amirite?

To balance out the unpleasantness, I started a bunch of flower and herb seeds in the little greenhouse. I never start anything from seed, but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice, as The Natural Gardener would be “mobbed” for weeks. This would of course be the COVID-19 version of “mobbed:” long lines of cars waiting for someone to leave so they could go on in and the the number of shoppers could be kept low.

Thank you, 2021, for teaching us never to take simple tasks, pleasures, or errands for granted again. We get it. Lessons learned. You can go now.

What simple pleasures I’ve had have been wonderful, though.

It was also an amazing relief to become fully vaccinated and to know the kids and grandkids will all be fully vaccinated very soon now.

Crummy weather makes a good space for watercolor practice, too.

Day by day the crummy weather departed (are you listening, 2021?) and Spring arrived. Being as this is such a splendid year so far, it seemed like a good time for our fence to seriously fall apart and demand a pretty spendy replacement. While our neighbors prefer no fencing, we’ve become accustomed to having our back yard be a tiny nook of privacy.

Because the beautiful viburnum in the side yard looked as if it might be unable to deliver its usual vast array of pungent blooms or a necessary spread of shade, I decided to clean out the magnolia corner and let my tender potted pants summer there.

In difficult days, it is a good thing to walk outside and look at flowers. A lot.

This being 2021 and all, there have been difficult days. In early April Floyd did a face-plant off his mountain bike and broke his nose, as well as gashing it pretty impressively. I shall spare you those photos.

I decided to spend my birthday in San Pedro. I had treated myself to a new iCamera 12 Pro (let’s quit pretending I buy new phones, okay?) and had a good time comforting myself with So Cal flowers. It’s been decades since I was out there in April, and I must say it was nice to see Mary’s backyard succulents showing off (while so many of mine were limp slimy puddles but I’m not bitter).

We even managed to have wildflowers in the house.

A few months ago, Mary adopted a long-time stray kitty who’d been eating at her sister’s house for quite a while. He was a scraggly, flea-eaten mess. Their first trip to the vet revealed multiple serious health problems all the way up to cancer. This vet is a saint on earth whose fees for the treatment of strays are so low you want to go home and write the clinic a check after you’ve paid the bill.

His name is Max, and he is the sweetest darling of a boy who seems perfectly content to live out his final days in Mary’s doting care.

Max was also willing to help me with my so-called “artistic endeavors,” in the manner of helpful kitties everywhere.

Although it wasn’t easy to tear Mary away from him, I did wrangle her out of the house for walks and even a lunch at our usual place.

This was my first inkling that a corner had been turned, and we would be able to emerge from quarantine soon. Speaking of simple pleasures making us glad!

Mary made my birthday very festive.

Surely 2021 was on its way out!

I don’t think we’d even finished off the bubbly before my phone rang to remind me that this cursed year wasn’t about to be taken offstage willingly. A neighbor was phoning with one of those “he’ll be all right” calls.

Two weeks after the broken nose, Floyd took an extremely serious fall from his mountain bike. As soon as he went off that ledge and saw that his front wheel hit the ensuing slope first, he knew he was in trouble; he was. The only bright side was that he was with somebody, and the mountain bikers take serious care of each other. Calls were made, two bikers came to the spot with dispatch (lucky they can convey to each other any greenbelt location with pinpoint accuracy “You know, that place where the trail forks and you can head to the XYZ trail or down to the creek and there’s that tree…”) One biker stayed to assist Floyd, the other rode out to the street to direct the EMTs who were walking in.

Floyd says a helicopter flight from the greenbelt to Dell Seton is very quick.

Seven broken ribs, one broken clavicle, a shoulder that would prove to be separated but he wouldn’t know that until way later because somehow it didn’t seem much of a priority at the time, and two collapsed lungs later, Floyd was headed into five ICU days and four days in a plain old regular unit. Now almost a month later, that shoulder is the worst of it. I couldn’t do what he does with one broken rib, let alone seven; but the shoulder is very painful. The orthopedic surgeon opined no intervention needed, just give it a few months.

Second opinion, anyone?

Anyway, I’ll spare you those photos too. I will just say that when air keeps leaking out of your lungs, one of the things it likes to do is travel upward to give your neck and face a very balloon-like aspect. And if you press on the puffy surfaces, you can feel Rice Krispies under the skin. Since Dell Seton is a teaching hospital, numerous students came by to feel them so they will recognize such a phenomenon when it occurs. I kept telling them, “Floyd has cheekbones! He has a square jaw!”

So see, 2021 hasn’t been all bad! There’ve been important educational aspects!

Naturally I’d hurried home from Mary’s as fast as I could get here. For the first time we thought to use the Long Beach airport instead of LAX, and if an airport can be adorably cute, Long Beach is all that.

Busy looking for any bright spots in this infernal year, I was glad that many of my poppies were still thriving in the front yard. They were an enormous hit with the honeybees, who, I suppose, would have been enjoying my side yard viburnum if 2021 hadn’t murdered it.

The sidewalk garden had exploded into life, and it is always pleasant to walk up and down to see what’s emerging. Or, in the case of 2021, simply surviving.

And a great deal of comfort has been needed.

When I was at Mary’s, our boy Travis had a medical problem that involved bleeding into his pericardium. He’d simply collapsed one morning on his walk. Floyd spent a harrowing day going from our vet to the animal ER for tests, diagnosis, and treatment.

A few weeks later it happened again.

This time I was on ER duty and the vet let me know in the gentlest possible way that there was no good prognosis.

I don’t know what I’ll do when we don’t need face masks any more; they are very handy for ugly crying in public.

In a daze we made contact with some people my daughter had used before. I’m sorry for you if you aren’t in Austin, but maybe you have some people like this near you when the time comes:

The week leading up to our appointment was one of the worst we’ve ever spent. Although the level of affection, play, and snuggling remained well within normal limits, there was enough crying to send me to bed with a headache every night, wishing I would be asleep for more than three or four hours but never quite getting there.

The evening before was splendid, the beautiful gold May sunlight and cool shade making it hard to come in the house. So many people came to say good-bye, Travis was in his element. The next morning a neighbor stopped by with her three-year-old, so Travis spent some of his last moments on earth playing stick.

When the vet arrived (Dr. Kimberly), she was already teary-eyed, so we knew we were in the right hands. She felt Travis’s chest and told us his heart was pressed right up against his chest wall, so we were reassured that we were doing the right thing. The nature of his illness was such that he was perfectly fine until he just collapsed.

So Travis died in his own bed, age 12, in our arms as we spoke our love for him into his ears and Dr. Kimberly fed him jerky treats and medication. We all cried.

When we were ready, Dr. Kimberly called the driver to come and retrieve his body so it could be cremated and returned in a different form to the greenbelt he loved so much. Floyd and I carried him out and placed him in a velvet-lined basket of precisely the right size.

We stood in the drizzle in the driveway for a long time after the van drove away, then turned and came into the house to try to figure out how to live without our darling boy.

We still haven’t figured it out.

Travis’s last evening

Can This Lavender Be Saved?

It is the 11th of February and here in Central Texas we are bracing for a week of very cold weather.

In the backyard herb garden, half a dozen lavender plants are covered with buds. They would do just fine in an ordinary winter, but I’m looking at a week of 20-degree nights that includes one in the teens and maybe, just for fun, 10 degrees next Monday night after it snows during the day. If this forecast comes true, we will be losing a fair number of big landscape plants – shrubs, hedges, small trees, all the peaches – let along things like lavender.

So this morning I decided to dig up a couple of plants and set them up in the greenhouse. No doubt they will experience transplant shock; but I’m pretty sure staying outside, even with a cover, would be a death sentence. We shall see. It’s like I have two experimental groups, and now you know why I never would have been on the tenure track in any psychology department in the land.

Whatever the outcome, my little greenhouse smells like heaven. Too bad there’s no room to sit out there at this point.

Maybe it’s just as well.

I was out there yesterday chatting with Mary on the phone, watering plants ahead of the cold and just being a perfectly nice caregiver when without warning a cactus grabbed me. With barbed spines, of course.

Naturally I had no sharp implements within reach, so I had to saw the stalk off with my fingernails, saying very rude things the entire time. Went into the house, still rude, and searched for numbing liquids of any kind. Couldn’t find the lidocaine roll-on, of course. Poured on some clear Benadryl liquid. Searching under bathroom sink, what? What?

Why, Preparation-H pads, of course.

Fortunately I have plenty of ambidexterity practice, so my left hand was totally up to the task of cutting the packets open, cutting the pads down, and wrapping the offending digits. A bowl of ice water completed the numbing protocol and I shall spare you the rest of the operation. It was also fortunate that this particular cactus left no toxins behind: when it was done, it was done and all was back to normal.

Did we think gardening is easy?

It only just now occurs to me that I could have put that damn cactus out in the yard to freeze, making room for a worthier plant. Nice to know my mind doesn’t always turn to revenge.

Now it is Sunday, the 21st of February, what seems like 100 days since I started this post. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, and how quickly an innocent question like “Can this lavender be saved?” can turn into an embarrassing absurdity.

On Valentine’s Day we had icy rain, and the next morning we awoke to this:

I can’t remember a time when we had snow twice in one year, and I most certainly cannot remember a time when it stayed around for days. And days. And days.

With daytime temperatures below freezing and nighttime temperatures swooping down into the teens and below, this winter weather wasn’t going anywhere. Even if the peak of the days’ warmth caused a modicum of meltage, the next morning that was just a veneer of ice atop the snow. Which actually came in quite handy, as it gave my feet some purchase when taking Travis for his walk. Plus it was evilly fun to watch poor Marco Polo try to get back his outdoor adventure life only to have one paw or another break through the frozen surface and send him hurrying back into the house.

Travis didn’t love the icy part, but he enjoyed so many long hikes on the greenbelt with Floyd that he needed to take a day off and then head to the vet for his Adequan shot.

He always think that’s worth it.

While I spent a certain amount of psychic energy resigning myself to the death of much of our landscape, I worried most about that great live oak in front. Not a limb was lost. I can almost breathe again.

Everything else can be replaced.

Of course snow is so beautiful it’s hard to complain about it when it’s such a rare visitor.

We were very fortunate compared to so many people! We never lost electricity or gas, and spent only about four days without water. My daughter had given me a heads up and so we started the drought with two full bathtubs. We tried to be conservative with that stash, but surely some thoroughly cooked snow would serve for washing dishes. Toss in a tiny bit of bleach and it’s all good.

Thoroughly boiled snow is just as tricky to work with as any thoroughly boiled substance, but I managed not to spill much or burn myself too badly.

As a few days passed and the bathtub levels diminished, I began to look up assistance sites where we might obtain some water. Again fortunately, we were able to leave all that for people whose needs were truly dire. At about two o’clock one morning it occurred to me that once the frozen rain barrels weren’t totally frozen, we’d have all the toilet flushing water we could possibly desire.

Before the melt, the world looked like it was full of Christmas trees.

I wish I could have captured the splendid light going through the iced branches. It made me think of that line from Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek where she’s writing about a book she’d been reading. It gave accounts of people who had been blind from birth having surgery and seeing for the first time, and one person kept referring to “the tree with lights in it.”

That’s what it was like.

Naturally there were many snowmen and snow-women, and one afternoon an entire section of roadway that’s between two steep hills was turned into the neighborhood sledding and ski resort. While our neighbors are always helpful, there was an extra sense of caring and watching out for one another.

One nearby family had a display so clever I posted it on Facebook, worried that perhaps they had turned to ice and melted:

Of course they hadn’t; they’d even made it through a few “blowout” episodes with their baby, still in good spirits. How??? (For those among you who may be childless, a blowout episode involves shall we say a poopfest that can go from neck to heels and everything in between and in the surrounding area. Without running water in the house. Bless them.)

It’s been a wild ten days. I’ve thought long and hard about people who went through the entire ordeal with no electricity, no water, then water pouring down through collapsing ceilings. Impassable roads, stores closed due to water damage. People were hungry. People died from hypothermia, people died from carbon monoxide poisoning trying to stay warm. Politicians were their characteristic altruistic or unspeakable selves. I hope we all remember who was who.

Just as I have run into some troubles because of my independent streak, the “great” state of Texas has its problems with its fierce wish for autonomy in a world where in truth we are all interdependent. I know a little about the history of utility deregulation, and some of the organizations and individuals who fought hard against regulation because – let’s face it – money. We don’t want no federal government telling us what to do, but damned if we won’t ask for federal money when disaster strikes.

Sometimes independence can be expensive. I saw a 2011 report following a bad winter siege; it seemed extremely (ok, tediously) thorough and made what appeared to be very cogent suggestions to prevent the next winter disaster. Those suggestions were roundly ignored (except in El Paso, I believe). Then I read today that the insurance industry (let’s not get started on THEM) will now face spending $1,000 for every $1 that was put into infrastructure. Who’s the boss lobby now, losers?

Ah, but it is now seventy degrees and sunny. The snow is gone, more of the landscape has survived than I expected. I’ve run the dishwasher and am looking forward to my first shower in nearly a week.

I’ll leave you with a portrait of Marco from the middle of the week, as he sat on a chilly windowsill both longing to be outside and wanting nothing to do with being outside. Poor dude! I can only try to emulate his sweet equanimity as he manages to roll with whatever nature throws our way. Having been rescued from a freeway as a tiny baby, Marco doesn’t let too many things get him down for long.

I’ma try to be like Marco.

What Do You Do With This?

It seems as good a time as any for collage, no?

But first one brief political rant because I believe silence is complicity:

Let me be clear: I am absolutely horrified by the current political situation in the USA, and I find reprehensible the utterances of anyone who professes support for those who invaded our Capitol; those who inspired them (I believe “sedition” is the word: look it up); and anyone who chooses not to see the horrors of white supremacy and white privilege in both the events and the aftermath. And if I hear one more “what about BLM riots,” I swear I will sentence you to ten years of being exposed to nothing but Black history in a locked room.

That’s a big mouthful. But I know the very thought of guns in my workplace destroyed my health and my teaching career, and I stand with those who are courageous enough to say this shit must stop. If you truly believe our election was rigged and your Fearless Leader actually won, go find some actual data and get back to me. Federal courts aren’t interested in your feelings, your beliefs, or your rantings. Find some evidence or just shut up, okay?

Well. All righty then.

If you’re still here, let’s talk about finding a few tattered shreds of sanity in art. Which happens, oddly enough, when you let go.

I can barely manage to make acrylic paints do what I want them to do. So of course I have to play with watercolors, a notoriously difficult medium to control. Hence the word “play:” it’s a built-in excuse for aiming really low.

I’ve always said I’m a doodler, not someone who can draw or paint anything that actually looks like anything real. Being a doodler is another great permission-giver. And watercolors do amazing things all on their own, so all I have to do is sit back and more or less let go of the outcome.

I take online classes through a website called Skillshare, and follow an artist named Robert Joyner in the hope of learning to paint “loosely:” not exactly abstract, you can clearly see what he is portraying as if it were real life. He calls himself a paint-slinger, and I love to watch the videos in which he appears to just slap on stroke after stroke, color after color, shape after shape and suddenly it’s a harbor, or a street scene, or a cow.

It’s like real life but through a kaleidoscope.

At some point over the holidays, Joyner posted some ideas for fun quick art pieces and naturally I had to try some out. Here’s my favorite:

I sent him the image as I was asking whether he would be okay with my getting it printed up to sell at what I hope will be our neighborhood Mothers’ Day Art Sale. He said that’s fine, there’s no copyright, and nice job!

Well, that’s practically right up there with the time Annie Dillard said she loved my poetry. It’s just lucky I have sufficient shortcomings to keep me bearable.

On the food front, I’ll start out with where I fall short: ciabatta. I think I may be too impatient with the final rise, but I cannot get a crust or crumb that makes me happy. Floyd recently cut me a beautiful baking steel, and I’m sure that will be the answer to all my bread-baking needs. Luckily, thanks to the best daughter in the world, we have a supply of olive oil straight from Tuscany. It helps.

And as everyone knows, even bad bread smells wonderful in the oven. So I shall continue to plug away at it.

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, I had it in my mind to make cinnamon rolls. Part of the fun of baking nowadays is the internet search for the “best of” recipes and finding one that calls for ingredients that are actually in the house. I’m still not shopping out in the world, but Floyd is kind enough to pick up things like yeast when he goes to Central Market. I have no idea what I would do with the 32-ounce jar available at Costco.

In any event, I thought the cinnamon rolls were wonderful. The pecans were my idea.

I’d also had it in mind to bake a cheesecake, since 10,000 calories a day is hardly enough to get one through a year like this or a winter like this. More about winter in a minute. But what I mean to say is, I somehow had a whole lot of cream cheese inn the fridge.

So last Sunday I made my usual fresh tomato sauce. Tossed in 3 or 4 ounces of cream cheese, cut up, and a few handfuls of baby spinach. Threw in the penne and lots of toasted pine nuts and ate enough of it for two days to create many wonderful regrets. OOOOH, I ate too much, you know what I mean?

Best part: I made a double batch of sauce, so I can eat this all over again!

On to the gardening section: it was a long and dry autumn here in Central Texas. At such times the wisdom of native and well-adapted plants becomes evident – in case you missed it before. The sidewalk garden provided color and bee food throughout.

I don’t even remember whether I’ve told you about my cactus-ish planter made of six-inch tubing, but there it is. It is supposed to be West Texas on one side and Joshua Tree on the other. I think in Spring I’ll plant it with very drapey succulents. Or maybe very spiky yucca. In winter we must daydream about what we’ll do in Spring, or we would have nothing to look forward to at all.

Right outside the front door, lantana, flame acanthus, and shrimp plant were super colorful and therefore inescapably cheering.

I even had blossoms on my Stapelia, which are a great treat as long as you don’t stick your nose in too close.

In the back yard, I’d sit with Mary on the phone for hours and just kind of take in the space in all its tininess. While I thought on first seeing it eleven years ago that I could never live with such a postage-stamp landscape, I’ve reached an age at which a tiny yard has infinite appeal.

It is now mid-January. I miss my basil plants. I miss all the leaves, really, even when they fall and make a mess and a bunch of work for me. From the lemons-to-lemonade department, Floyd’s truck was broken into and some tools stolen (I hope that ancient grinder with the cord that was more holes than cord teaches someone they ought not to steal stuff, especially a working man’s tools). He replaced them with a bunch of Milwaukee brand tools, and holy Swiss cheese are they great.

I do love a good reciprocating saw.

And the Milwaukee leaf blower, battery powered, is far lighter and quieter than the gas version. Not to mention less polluting. I know everyone hates every leaf blower except their own, but if you were to borrow mine you would love my leaf blower too.

This year I did remember to start getting plants into the greenhouse early. Usually I am in a back-breaking rush as a north wind comes slamming down from Canada pushing me into the task. Not this year!

This is my therapy office these days, brimming over with oxygen and the smell of damp potting soil. By now there are hundreds of succulent buds trying my patience by making me wait for them; knowing, I imagine, that I need a great deal of patience practice. You can’t hurry succulent flowers.

I went out to the shop one day to pick out steel for planters, thinking of the Mothers’ Day Art Sale (about which I really ought to be doing something by now). Here we see a steel planter being born:

Isn’t a plasma cutter a wonderful thing? Everyone should have one. This particular piece of steel came with a pattern of rust that’s so pretty I hope to recreate it with paint.

Should have just clear-coated it on the spot. But maybe by the time it warms up enough to work in the driveway, the rust will have re-asserted itself.

Did I tell you our weather turned cold? Stop laughing, New England fam.

It was pretty enough to make me want to stand and scrub out the kitchen sink.

I decided to walk up the street instead.

Just around that curve the kids were having a great time – first snow for a few of them. If it hadn’t been so wet I’d have shown them how to make a snow angel.

The sidewalk garden was quite picturesque, I thought.

Travis, just back from a long hike in the greenbelt, was in no hurry to get back in the house. He would have hung out with the kids all day.

It’s hard to imagine he is turning twelve this month.

The kitties, on the other hand, were having none of it. Lucy refused to step foot outdoors, and although Marco did go out for a while, he spent much more of the day just watching from a warm perch, just like me.

I was so glad the year-long Knit A Blanket For A Tall Grandson project had been completed in time for such winter weather. Tracy says Jessie says he loves having a blanket long enough for him. Aww.

I am not as short as I look in this photo, just so you know.

As you see, we are all well and managing to keep COVID-19 away for the moment. I’m working on signing us up for the vaccine, but websites remain clogged and very busy. That’s okay; let the people on the front lines, the people with higher-level needs, go first. I’m not going anywhere and I am madly in love with Instacart anyway. We’ll get there soon enough, I imagine.

Circling back to collage, here are a couple:

Nothing like cutting up paper and getting glue stick all over everything to bring out your inner kindergartener.

I’m going to close with a photo that has nothing to do with gardening, food, or art. It has more to do with letting surprise in, and turning it into something beautiful. One day when the weather was mild and the front door was open, I caught a very attentive Lucy watching a bunch of noise up in the skylight tunnel thing in our foyer.

Fortunately the little noisemaker managed to fly down, take a few moments to reconsider the whole thing, and decide to go back the way they had come.

Go be surprised.

Beginning Again, Again

White Point

It’s good to know that with so many things in life we can just start over.

It’s the end of October here in Middle Texas, megatons of promised rain have failed to arrive, and we stand to lose 40 degrees tonight. Our gardens are looking positively autumnal, or our version of it anyway: still plenty of color, multitudes of flowers; but every day more dead leaves and bare stalks.

The very thought of cutting down the sidewalk garden makes me tired, but starting over means work and what good is a garden if it can’t remind you multiple times a year that you can always start over?

I’m writing this on the very brink of an election so important I’ve had a stomach ache about it for months. I know that people who approve of the current administration believe what they believe and no amount of data or rational thinking can change it. I myself am hoping we have a chance to start some things over.

At this writing 224,466 Americans and their families will have no opportunity to go back, start over, do things differently, or wish that a president for whom many people would walk through fire could have said what all the medical professionals said: take COVID-19 seriously; social distance; and wear a mask.

I myself personally have had no problems wearing a mask. That way no one can read my lips when I am silently berating the damn fool humans who make every adventure out in the world downright annoying. I also love not shopping. I also love hardly ever having to drive anywhere. So, other than worrying about my kids and grandkids, and feeling horrible for the people who are ill and dying and the people who take care of them, COVID-19 has mostly been a mere annoyance for the likes of me.

In early August I did, however, screw my courage to the wall and board a plane for LAX – which looks very strange when deserted. My girl Mary had at last been granted a date to begin again with a new shoulder, and I was going to help her. I know, it would mean seven weeks alongside the Pacific Ocean, but sacrifices must be made in difficult times, no?

It was weird to be unable to just say, Let’s go have lunch at the 22nd Street Landing, or Let’s go see what’s at Ross today. But we managed. Especially the lunch part.

Chinese Take-Out by the Sea

Doesn’t everybody bring vintage embroidered linens to a picnic? My girl Mary, channeling Elizabeth David, certainly does.

Just as I believe resiliency is a critical component of survival, I believe finding beauty is a key factor in navigating truly ugly times. What else can you do, wallow in the nastiness?

Although I missed the first crop of night-blooming jasmine, my extended visit meant I would be there for the late-summer round. Knowing how I feel about NBJ, Mary clipped a sprig for my bedside. I had to move it to a spot behind the fan, as this perfume is powerful stuff. Especially coming from tiny flowers that don’t look like a heck of a much.


I think another important aspect of surviving difficult times is perspective. I am human enough to feel compassion for all the parents who’ve been thrust into three full-time jobs during the pandemic, but for reasons I can’t quite explain I keep thinking of Anne Frank and her family.

Cliffs and the sea are always good for perspective.

Mary and I wandered on foot and by car. One day I drove us down around the marina, where many boats large and small are moored. We waxed nostalgic about the days when San Pedro was a working port, very rough, very industrial. I don’t know how I feel about that rough town beginning again, but I suppose it’s a good thing all in all.


If I were a journalist, I would look up the history of that building. What happened there? Train tracks run through numerous buildings down at the old port. What are those angled chutes? And the animal heads?

In my imagination those maws are drains, so that floors could be washed with hoses, although I can’t really imagine multiple stories of seafood processing. Perhaps that’s because I dream of living in a house like that – where at least some of the rooms could be washed out with a hose now and then. Talk about a handy new beginning.

While I was away, two grandsons and my daughter helped keep the gardens watered and Travis walked. Tracy reported a bountiful harvest of passion flowers. I was relieved some of them waited for me. I finally thought to snip one and bring it into the house to photograph out of the wind.

Once home I also had to begin again on my Big Knitting Project, the blanket I should have knitted for my first grandson before he topped 6’4″. It is a very nice thing to have two hands to work with once more.

I envision being finished just before this blanket reaches the hallway.

Since I am forever nagging people to make art out of difficult experiences, it is only fair that I take my own advice. It’s a good time to paint wildly with a palette knife

a good time to return to the unbelievably sticky business of resin

Thank you to Tracy for the Santorini marble!

and a very good time to try an entirely new medium: alcohol ink, again on a piece of Santorini marble.

It takes a certain amount of creativity to begin again. It takes some imagination and a willingness to take risks.

Sometimes all it takes is the desire to wash away the things that haven’t been working so well and clear a space for something better.

What’s A Lazy Retired Introvert with a Broken Arm to Do?

Why, nothing, of course.

I might as well open with two confessions: first, that photo is a little misleading. It’s not, thankfully, Lucy Sparkletoes who has the broken arm. Nor is she an introvert. But who wants to open with a splint and oddly colored fingers?

Second, I’ve been away so long that WordPress has managed to become almost incomprehensible to me the user. So bear with the odd font sizes etc. I may have nothing to do, but it will take a whole lot more nothing to do to get me to try to learn a new way of writing a blog post.

Since pretty much my entire readership consists of family members, you probably know all about what happened. But for anyone else, I’ll just say it isn’t as strange as it seems to learn that Floyd and I went out for a little skate around the neighborhood. We do that periodically. We MET skating. At my peak I skated up to 2000 miles per year. And I very rarely fall.

If you go back three years in this very blog you can read all about that time I shattered my right wrist while on a walk, so. In a way this experience was similar, with all the “Yup, you’ve done it again,” and “Nothing by mouth after midnight” stuff.

This one did bring a new experience, though: having a fracture reduced! (Squeamish people skip ahead.)

The people at our lovely ER were wonderful, of course, and very generous with IV morphine. Still, when they came to tell me the fracture would need to be reduced, and they wheeled in this, this medieval looking device that looked like they might tie my fingers to it and run out of the room with them, I wasn’t too stoned to realize that sounded pretty bad.

“No worries,” they said. “We’ll give you something so you won’t remember a thing.” Riiight.

I fell off my skates, you guys, not off a pumpkin truck.

Actually that procedure was excellent! It was like general anesthesia except I was pleasantly dreaming the whole time; and the arm felt way better with those bones more or less back in place. So if you ever need a broken limb reduced, do not fear it – especially if you are in my closest ER.

Flash forward a week and, much to my dismay, I was told and could see very clearly that those bones were nowhere near as in place as they should be. Not to mention a little fragment that was quite far from where it should be. So.


“At least it’s my left arm this time,” and “This one is nowhere near as bad as the last one,” are statements that truly scrape the bottom of the optimism barrel, in my opinion. Just like, “It’s a good time to be in quarantine.” But there you have it.

Now all I want to be able to add is, “I had to visit numerous health care facilities and didn’t come down with COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, spring arrived in fits and starts and chilly and hot and rainy and dull and gorgeous.

So a lazy retired introvert with a broken arm gets to sit in the front yard a great deal, where there is almost always a breeze and the agave flower stalk across the street grows every day like a mammoth asparagus that will soon be topped with yellow flowers and a million honeybees. It’s a very good time to look forward to things.

It’s been a joy to watch the young families all around us make the most of a very challenging situation. They have spent time making things, and playing, and producing beautiful sidewalk art; learning to ride two-wheelers and skateboards; and letting their 4-year-olds holler nonsense at each other across the street.

Of course there is much beauty in the here and now; I feel extremely privileged to be in a suburban neighborhood with plenty of space for walking. Travis and I have gone around a few blocks many times over the past months, and now that my arm is so much better we’ll be able to roam a bit wider. The greenbelt remains Floyd’s purview, however, now that the snakes have awakened for the season.

Speaking of Floyd and his #1 helper, while I’ve been indulging in 800 varieties of indolence, Floyd has been hard at work building a model airplane. It is a model of his own design, dating back to the ’80s; he’d been thinking of building it for quite some time. It’s not nice to get the gift of time from a potentially deadly virus, but not much to be done about that. Might as well make the most of it.

I cannot imagine making anything so detailed and meticulous. The battery is the heaviest part of the whole thing, and all together it is just about precisely nine pounds. Floyd mowed a runway in a nearby field (no worries, the rattlesnake den is YARDS away) and on the one occasion Travis and I went to witness a flight, that dog ran like a wild puppy trying to corral the flying machine. Fortunately we each have our assortment of pain pills for afterward. 100% worth it, said Travis.

Back on earth, the usual spring explosion of flowers. One of the advantages of a native/well-adapted garden is it can fend for itself quite well. I’ve had no inclination for weeding or bug-chasing, so there sidewalk garden has had to make what it could of the season.

Fortunately the bees are not confined to their hives.

I’ve been listening to Jane Austen novels on repeat, and watching cosy mysteries one after another. Miss Marple spends an inordinate amount of time battling weeds, imo. She would never approve of the tangled mess at the end of the Unruly Gardener’s driveway.

I’m sorry I don’t have a photo to do them justice, but we’ve had masses of these beautiful purple flowers all over the place. You might think someone with nothing to do should look up everybody’s name, or at least download a plant identifier app; but there is a very slippery slope between nothing to do and doing nothing, and as you know, I find the world a pretty slippery place.

Back in the Time Before, Travis and I made a couple of trips out to The Natural Gardener; for once I treated myself to a couple of dahlias – the world’s most photogenic flowers.

Pure eye candy for difficult times!

I am not much of a rose gardener, but I do have a couple of graveyard (read “ABANDONED graveyard”) roses. I must admit they tempt me to go in search of some really fragrant varieties but we are not allowed out and I meant it when I said “lazy.” Why else would you plant roses that thrive on neglect?

My crown of thorns, the one plant I would rescue from a house fire if I could move it, sailed through the winter draped in plastic down at the open end of the greenhouse. I’ve had it since it was a tiny baby and it has never for one minute been without flowers.

Look, you stay healthy too, okay? Stay at home if you possibly can and be extra nice to the people who deliver what you need right to your door. My most recent delivery person said that shoppers are being extremely rude. Don’t be those people!

Send all your best thoughts to the people who are fighting on our front lines in hospitals and clinics and grocery stores, and find out if you have anything a neighbor might need.

And wear your mask!

Winter Light

Off once again to San Pedro, where it is a wet and chilly almost-winter. Mary’s house turns 100 this coming year, and is not exactly equipped to meet the needs of a nearly frozen Texas resident, so items like a space heater and the warmest socks the internet has to offer were top priorities.

When I wake up early as usual and return to my cozy bunk with a Thermos of hot coffee, I feel I’m channeling writers like Elizabeth David, who was known to spend the first half of the day in bed with a Thermos of hot coffee. It is only right that the other part of the day should include cooking, often Mediterranean inspired.

There must be some sunshine somewhere.

On many days it’s been hard to tell where the sea leaves off and the sky begins; it’s all the same pale blue-white of skim milk.

At other times the clouds take on a little definition, letting the watery sunlight through.

Mary and I have been much indoors, for a few days getting ready for a new couch. How much do you have to trust a friend to let them see under all your furniture, even the piano? But now the living room is rugless and somehow roomier, and tiny colored lights festoon the large bookcases in preparation for the arrival of an old friend who loves Christmas.

It’s good weather to work on a blanket for a very tall grandson, with plenty of feline assistance available.

We’ve been making it a point to take a good walk every day, our pace and distance dictated to a certain degree by Mary’s fancy new hip. Her recovery has been truly amazing, and I am usually the one having to set limits on terrain and distance. Just yesterday we tested the new hip on a long slope downhill, to where a few surfers had a small cove all to themselves.

From top:

to bottom:

down to where the waves rush in and then pull back in a roar of water and the constant clatter of stones wearing each other smooth.

Even on the cloudiest days, winter flowers seem lit from within.

When the sun does come out, my phone seems to produce photos in Technicolor.

Just as in Central Texas, the winter days go from that damp cold that inserts itself into your bones, to warmth that peels off sweaters and makes life livable again.

Back at the house, a big bush I’ve been teasing Mary about for years has proven me wrong. I don’t know when she tossed that apple core in the back yard, but the impossible seems to have happened.

In real life I know apples don’t come from tossed cores, but you don’t come to Southern California for reality, do you?

Late on a recent afternoon Mary and I ventured down to White Point to see what the winter sunset had to offer. I was interested to see what my phone would do when pointed straight into the departing sun.

In Austin, if you drive out to the Oasis for some mediocre Tex-Mex and a full view of the sunset, when the sun finally drops down below lake level everyone claps and cheers. At White Point I was the only one clapping.

Then everything went quiet again.

And we headed back up toward home.

The Fall and Scuff

We all know what it sounds like, and we all know the scent: crisp leaves collected into piles. Then the leap, the mild sharp edges, the smell of the year’s last season. No matter how long it’s been since we’ve made that leap, the sensations are unforgettable; and a scuff-walk through fallen leaves brings it all back in a rush.

A Texas summer can be so relentless, so monotonous, that it’s easy to forget that weather ever changes. Weather forecasters promise rain week after week to keep us from hitting each other, and week after week we have no rain. Or ten drops and 100% humidity.

Then one day, or in the middle of one night, the north wind arrives and summer is slammed into the Gulf of Mexico. Rains return and we’re kind of supposed to be glad it’s 40 degrees and raining.


Fortunately those miserable days are quickly replaced by the high 70s and we watch our leaves change color. They go tree by tree at first, rolling out different hues and patterns as the days go by. It’s now late November and we have plenty of color still to come.

But the serious falling has begun.

Speaking of falling. Last month I made the amazing discovery that I don’t even need to fall to break myself. It was the most ironic situation I’ve landed in since years ago when a kitty I was holding onto at the vet bit my right ring finger so hard I ended up in some of the most painful and long-lasting trouble I’ve ever endured. No good deed going unpunished and all.

This time I don’t even have a frightened kitty to blame. I could blame a hose, however.

Since I paint in a corner of the garage when weather permits, I make much use of the hose right outside the garage. The ground in that area was covered with 2-6″ rocks placed by I myself personally that all of a sudden seemed a little unstable. Clearly the large rocks had to go, and a cubic yard of gravel must be put into place in their stead.

That was all it took for the universe to admit me to the world of stress fractures. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen the X-ray.

Breaking your foot in the effort to render a piece of your property safer. Can I be the only one?

… A few days have gone by since I started this post; I was glued to the TV and having flashbacks to the ’70s. Fortunately, nature has moved along on its own and during TV breaks I could take in some more colors.

In the back yard, the pomegranates that always split open before ripening (about which I do not care because I only like pomegranates for their flowers) create cracked red orbs filled with red beads. This is sufficient holiday decoration, as far as I’m concerned.

The birds will make good use of the fruit. And maybe a thirsty skunk or two. We’ve had a few as night visitors and are only lucky enough to have a pretty passive dog and a VERY calm skunk who didn’t even become punitive when Travis trotted off up the street after them! We now have five quarts of hydrogen peroxide at the ready, and all fingers crossed.

The steel planter tree outside my window is dressed in winter colors. I’d been thinking “pansies” when I realized I was out of pressed flowers and thinking about selling art at the nearest farmers’ market. They’ll be pretty all winter.

Also in the back yard, maple tree + pomegranates + this morning’s wild north wind.

Some of our crape myrtles are the late-blooming types, and two outside the front window are also late to take color.

Damp air and a north wind are the perfect excuses for painting in the kitchen instead of the garage. It’s amazing how much of a mess I will clean up every day when I have to.

I’ve been playing with a few techniques.

On a recent evening walk Travis and I looked up for sources of color, and were duly rewarded.

It reminds me of the part in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when Annie Dillard writes about people who’ve been blind from birth being surgically given their sight. One person exclaimed over and over about “the tree with lights in it.”

So I’m living the quiet life and really loving it. Off to LA in a few days where I’ll spend a month with my girl Mary. When I return all the leaves that fall will have fallen, and the dull days of winter will be in full swing.

Fortunately for me, that doesn’t drag on for too long.


Central Texas weather in July is positively inspiring. This year it inspired me to leave for an entire month rather than my usual two weeks.

White Point

Mary and I spent a great deal of time at White Point this year. It’s a place of high cliffs, an interesting history, and a sea breeze that often sent me back to the car for sleeves.

If you look to that last distant sweep of sand you can see Royal Palms, where for a brief moment in the early 20th century there was a terrazzo dance floor, a stage for the band, stone benches and fireplaces, and what I imagine to be very glamorous flappers and their brilliantined gents drinking cocktails, smoking cigarettes, and dancing the night away under the swaying palm trees.

Now there are mere remnants left, and the majority of customers are people coming down for a picnic lunch and Ah Youth coming down to smoke weed in cars, positive they are the first youth ever to be so daring and cool. I wanted to tell them stories about things that used to happen in cars like a certain Chevrolet before their parents were even born.

1952 Chevy Deluxe

One afternoon we walked over to San Pedro High to get a late glimpse at the classic car show. Although the one I squandered much of my adolescence in was green and cream, you get the idea. Having to stop at the town dump on our way to the drive in to steal an old transmission to get through next week was way more fun in the telling than the doing, but to be honest I was a teenager with a certain thirst for adventure.

But back to White Point.

These gulls are perched in front of some of the ruins left behind by the hotel and hot springs resort. An earthquake blocked up the sulphur supply and ended the hot springs part, and it seems the resort didn’t last very long after that. I’m fairly sure we’re seeing where the saltwater swimming pool used to be. Now it’s an area with calm clear water and scrambling kids – the kind of place I would have to be dragged out of when I was a kid.

There had been an earthquake or two in the days just before my trip. Mary experienced them much as she does with those few she actually perceives. When the long metal tubes of her doorbell began to chime by swaying into the statue of the Infant of Prague, naturally she first thought raccoons were in the attic playing with the doorbell mechanism.

We didn’t see much new damage, but as we walked steeply down along the high cliffs beside the road down to White Point, we saw one disappointing alteration in the landscape. Up until January the section I’m talking about looked like this:

We just loved that beautiful swirl of rock, narrative of centuries of events for someone who knows how to read them. Now that spot looks like this:

So many details on the left have had enough of pressing one another together and have collapsed in a huge pile of rock and rock dust. Here it is from a little distance away:

We were glad to see the road down has been beautifully repaved and a stout curb poured into place on the cliff side of the road, but every day when we visited there were more and more rocks piled up between the curb and the cliff. Time for helmets when walking down the hill?

On many evenings we walked down to Point Fermin. If you have ever watched the opening scenes of “Chinatown” or a recent series on Netflix or Amazon about a young widow (“Dead to Me.” Thanks, niece Chris!), you have seen Point Fermin. Even though the TV show claims to be set in Laguna Beach. As we walk toward the park on Paseo Del Mar, first we would see the place where peregrine falcons nest and people with expensive-looking equipment photograph them.

This guy looks like he really wants to join his comrades in flight way down there, but it’s a big leap!

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

High atop the cliff face, people come to watch the falcons. I was never able to get a good shot with just my phone (my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

That concrete structure is one of the many gazebos set along the broad sidewalk leading to the old lighthouse and finally the point itself. Every time we went walking, there were kids and families and lovers taking advantage of the fresh air and the views.

The concrete wall between the gazebos is pretty decorative itself, and as they will do everywhere, wildflowers enhance the situation.

Walking back from the point to the car, the broad lawns and palm trees along that stretch of Paseo are enough to put the stupid stupidity of our current world right out of my head. Let’s hope beauty wins.

I suppose nothing need be said about flowers in Southern California. Mary’s back fence:

Little spots of beauty seen on every walk:

I could go on. I saw hedges made of geraniums

hedges made of lantana

hedges of roses, hibiscus, rosemary – what could be better than that?

I should have taken a photo of the delicata squash plant that came up from seeds Mary had tossed out after her meal prep. We ate roasted squash one night, but she has plenty more where they came from; just before I left, one vine seemed to be heading straight for the house.

It was lovely to savor long mornings with no need to get out and exercise before the day’s thermostat is set to Broil. We bought paint early in my visit and I did many, many pours. On canvas, on plywood, and on an old glass table top.

I even used leftover pouring paint to cover a table on the back porch that had nothing but some cracked white tiles to say for itself.

Since Mary has a book on how to paint with watercolors, I thought that might be fun.

A little more piano practice, the mastery of a few modern languages, and I’ll qualify as one of Jane Austen’s accomplished ladies.

We ate out often enough to still feel on vacation, but we ate on the back porch most days. Suffer, suffer.

Don’t let me forget to get the recipe for that cauliflower soup!

Of course there was time to get over to Hermosa Beach and get myself into those waves. The water this year was very mild, temperature-wise.

I decided to be a bit of a tourist and take a few photos I would have taken in Italy as I walked around Mary’s neighborhood. I think it helps.

I also had to get a photo of one of Mary’s three kitties. They were, um, bequeathed to her years ago when an old acquaintance left them because she couldn’t take care of them any more. Mary resisted as long as she could, but they basically never left her yard and now rather own the house as well. I give you Baby Kitty, who will hiss like mad if you pick her up but then start to purr and get all drooly once you start the petting. She is the sweetest thing ever.

As always, I was homesick for San Pedro before I even left.